Yay! It’s Food Allergy Awareness week, and nothing gives me more pleasure than being able to to talk allergies until I’m blue in the face!
Even just a simple act that takes 5 minutes like reading the labels whilst shopping for a party or classroom treat to pick something I can eat means the world to me and can make my day.
I am so pleased to see that allergy awareness has come such a long way, it is something we all must celebrate because 8 years ago, when Sarah was first diagnosed it was SO HARD explaining her symptoms and needs to someone without allergies, lots of questions like “Can’t she not just take one small bite?” and “How about if it’s organic?” I realized that these people actually meant well – they JUST DIDN’T understand what having an allergy means… let’s face it, it was a rare ‘disease’ and when I grew up, nobody in my class had food allergies and I hadn’t met anyone with food allergies until I became a doctor
Here are some facts you might like to share with your friends or family who DON’T understand what having an allergy means:
- It is very different from an intolerance where the worst that can happen is horrible symptoms. The worst that can happen in allergic reactions is fatality… and sadly we do hear about tragic cases from time to time…
- so allergy is a real and serious condition. Just like how if I fed someone cyanide for dinner, they will turn blue, suffocate, and possibly die. Well, the food I’m allergic to is my cyanide.
So no, it is not a lifestyle choice.
It’s not because we are hippie and just don’t want to eat certain foods.
But it is because I can only survive and live if I stay away from these foods.
So please take it seriously
- And yes – even a small minuscule bite can lead to a fatal reaction. in fact…
- food particles in the air, touching, kissing, can ALL trigger off reactions. It is NOT just limited to eating. If you ate a peanut butter sandwich for lunch, the small amounts of food particles remaining on your hands and on your lips may be enough to trigger a reaction in someone who is allergic. I wish the media wouldn’t make fun of those who are contact-allergic, it’s as serious as a heart attack and just as lethal.
- There is also a non-anaphylactic type of allergy called Non-IgE mediated reaction – where the immune system attacks body tissue such as the gut (leading to abdominal pain, bleeding, food aversion) or the skin (eczema) – and although these are not lethal, it can cause significant symptoms and lead to weight loss, poor growth because the gut is so inflamed and cannot do its job properly. You may not see the reaction right away, but for up to 5 days after eating the food, symptoms will persist.
- I don’t feel special at all for not being able to eat half the things at parties (and sometimes I can eat nothing at all). In fact, it hurts a lot when I’m not included and all my friends are enjoying things I want to eat. If the parents whisper to each and talk about how sorry they feel for me, it doesn’t actually make me feel any better either. I don’t enjoy the extra attention I get, and sometimes all the extra fuss makes me want to hide my allergies.
- In fact, food allergies is not just a physical condition – lots of people with allergies suffer from anxiety and mental health issues due to fears around eating, bullying, and isolation.
- I can never just grab something off someone’s shelf and eat it, I always have to check the labels before I eat anything, because…
- allergens are hidden in everything e.g. lots of bread contain soy and eggs, lots of children’s snacks and processed foods like oven pizza and nuggets contain allergens.
- In the ingredient list, allergens are usually listed in bold and there is usually a ‘contain’ section which lists the top 8 allergens present in the food product, but not always.
- The top 8 allergens (these are the most common) are:
- Tree nuts (such as almonds, cashews, walnuts)
- The problem is that allergens are not limited to these – there is now reported allergies to rice, and there is increasing allergy to corn which is NOT a top 8. I don’t blame you for being confused, even I am confused sometimes.
- Be wary of imported products or things your relatives or friends bring you as gifts from another country, as the labelling in other countries may NOT be as stringent. Many food flavorings are derived from the top 8 allergens but simply listed as ‘food flavoring’ rather than the food it is made from (not the case in US or UK but products from other countries may be).
Thank you for taking the time to read through all this and making an effort to understand my condition. Even just a simple act that takes 5 minutes like reading the labels whilst shopping for a party or classroom treat to pick something I can eat means the world to me and can make my day.