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May Is Food Allergy Awareness Month

Background: Approximately 32 million people in the U.S. have food allergies. Although children are often affected, the incidence of food allergies among adults continues to rise. The latest estimate is that one in 10 adults has a food allergy that began in adulthood.

The hardest part of living with food allergies is getting a proper diagnosis and understanding your triggers. Today, we're giving you an overview of what an allergy to food might feel like and look like, and also offering some tips on how to navigate if you or someone in your family has been diagnosed.

Understand the signs of a food allergy and know what to look for. If you suspect a food allergy, you may see signs of one or more of the below symptoms after eating:

  • Tingling and/or itching in the mouth.
  • Trouble swallowing.
  • Hives, itching, redness, or eczema.
  • Swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat, or other parts of the body.
  • Wheezing, nasal congestion, or trouble breathing.
  • Abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting.
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting.
  • A drop in blood pressure.
  • Anaphylaxis – a potentially life-threatening, whole-body allergic reaction that encompasses many of the symptoms on this list at the same time.

If you (or someone close to you) has experienced any of the above symptoms after eating, it's a good idea to write down all foods eaten and specific symptoms experienced after each meal. Then see an allergist as soon as possible to discuss possible triggers, get tested, and receive a diagnosis. For your reference, here is a graphic that outlines the most common food allergens:

If you, or someone you love has been diagnosed with a food allergy, it is scary and daunting. But there are things you can do to help ease into this new way of living.

First, tell everyone you know and come into contact with on a regular basis (family, co-workers, friends, neighbors) what the allergy diagnosis is. Why? They can help you by avoiding the foods and also knowing what symptoms to look for – to help you. You may not see your lips swelling from an allergy, but people around you might.

Second, eliminate potential sources of the allergen from your pantry and from your daily routine. Cooking for yourself is easiest, and you may feel most comfortable doing this at first. If you do eat out, you will need to do more than just review the menu carefully. You also need to let your server know what your allergies are and ask him or her to confirm any potential cross-contamination risks. Don't be afraid to ask a few times if you aren't sure the information was clearly understood.

Read labels. We speak about this all the time with skincare and the good news is that it's a lot easier with foods. By law, cross-contamination possibilities are required on food labels. Read the fine print — if you have an allergen marked in the potential cross-contamination disclaimer, take it seriously and avoid the food. It's not worth the risk.

You may need to eliminate certain food genres depending on your allergen. Allergic to nuts? You may not be able to eat Indian food in a restaurant anymore (sorry!), but you can still make it safely at home. Allergic to dairy? Traditional ice cream is off the table. Luckily there are lots of new dairy-less ice creams on the market. The list could go on, but the point here is that there's ALWAYS an alternative option for you. You just need to explore and find it. And trust us, after a while you'll feel so great you won't care if you can't eat nuts anymore.

Third, carry ephedrine with you. An Epi-pen is prescribed by your doctor if your allergy is deemed serious enough to be life-threatening. If you are not prescribed an Epi-pen, then always carry ephedrine pills.

Scrub your skincare, too. We have a great blog on what to look out for, particularly if you are allergic to almonds. Read here:

If your children have food allergies, you are on high alert. Here are a few more things you can do to allergy proof for your child:

  • Talk to parents and teachers in your child's play-date circle or school class and let them know about your child's allergen. Keep a small card with you to hand out on play dates to remind parents that your child is allergic, and to what food. Make sure your child's name and allergens are on the card. It's also good to mention on the card that your child has an Epi-pen with him or her and provide notes on how to use if needed. Bring food and utensils bagged and labeled with your child's name, so if he or she gets hungry there is no confusion as to where the utensils and food came from.
  • Anything you can do to avoid unplanned food spontaneity is a good move. Try to schedule play dates around meal times, so your child isn't exposed accidentally. This may seem like a lot of effort, but other parents should be happy to help keep your child out of harm's way by being properly informed. You'll breathe more easily, too, knowing you have taken some extra steps.
  • Finally, inspect the labels on all personal-care goods and cleaning supplies to make sure you're not using a product that contains an allergen for you or other family members. Being in contact with an allergen (not ingesting) can have harmful consequences. Keep a list of products you have used that don't contain allergens for the next time you go shopping.