Too often, we allow our fear of unknown ingredients to limit out lives with food allergies. Understandably, this could literally be life or death in some cases. But at what point is it time to decide to use that fear to empower us? How can we overcome the endless what-ifs and begin to piece together a safety net for our dining needs? Face it- food is a huge part of everyone’s life and it’s something we simply cannot escape.
Join Them Remember that saying If you can’t beat them, join them? This can also be true in regards to setting up your dining strategies, even with food allergies. Today’s support and technology allows for a huge assortment of allergen and ingredient research even before you step foot inside of any type of eatery. There are multiple places to go and safe lists to see so why not utilize what’s out there?
- Pick a Safety Zone– before you even leave your home, start your research. Never go out to a new restaurant on a whim, not even if someone else assures you that they are pretty sure it’s safe. You need to be your own food detective and advocate to remain as far from your allergens as possible.
- I’ve said it before and I will say it until the day I cannot speak anymore- Always, Always Have All of Your Necessary Allergy Medications With You At All Times. You know it takes seconds for a reaction to happen so being prepared is always the smartest and most proactive way to stay one step ahead of a reaction.
- Try a Test Run– always lean towards less is more. Obviously, the less you ingest of a possible allergic food the less the reaction would be compared to devouring an entire meal full of allergens. Start with a sample and work your way up. Don’t want to waste money? Enlist a friend who doesn’t have any food allergies to share your meal item.
- Don’t Go Alone– when trying new foods, it’s better to be with someone else in case of an emergency. Often people who have an allergic reaction that comes on rapidly are not able to communicate their needs or administer their epinephrine as needed. The buddy system is also a safety system (plus eating alone is never as much fun as eating with friends).
Options At Your Fingertips Are you not quite sure how to explain your allergy needs to your restaurant staff? Why not order custom dietary allergen cards. This is a discreet and easy way to ensure all of your allergens are communicated to your wait staff in more than eighteen different languages. Clear and concise communication is key to making sure everyone is on the same page and ready to work together for utmost safety with your meals.
Just about every person has access to some type of portable information (phones, laptops, etc.) allowing us to gain the information that we need anywhere, anytime. Use your technology to see what other people are saying about their dining experiences. Food apps, such as DineSafeApp have become one of the best ways for both restaurants and their patrons together. It’s no wonder that with the current estimate of 1 in every 3 people being diagnosed with a food allergy warrants up-to-date and precise ingredient and menu information.
Make it Personal Being your own advocate also means being your own concierge. Do not wait until you arrive to talk about your specific dining needs- make an appointment. Chefs are almost always more than happy to set up an appointment to speak with you before you even try their meals. This also gives you the added benefit of reading the body language of the person that will potentially be feeding you. Are they hesitating? Do they answer your questions without really giving you a complete and educated answer about food safety? Do they seem as if they may not have as much food allergy knowledge as you were hoping? All of these are signals for you to pick up on prior to your meal and before your food even touches your lips. If you have any doubts, you may consider seeking out a different location that will feel as if the chef knows what you need them to know. It’s your life- you are allowed to be picky.
Listen To Your Heart, Not Your Stomach The fact is, we all want to desperately feel normal. We all want to be able to get into the car and eat somewhere that everyone else eats without thinking twice about it. We all just want to have that meal that we see on television or on the menu. What you are feeling is completely normal but it may not be safe. Simply put, is the price of that meal truly worth the price of your life?
New guidelines issued yesterday by experts from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommend introducing peanut-containing foods to babies as early as possible as a way to lower their risk of developing a peanut allergy.
The recommendations reverse previous advice to add peanuts later, but are driven by new scientific research that showed early introduction of peanuts could cut allergy development by 81%. The guidelines are tailored for a child’s risk for peanut allergy, as follows:
- Infants at HIGH risk for peanut allergy (have severe eczema, egg allergy or both)
- Add peanut-containing foods as early as 4 to 6 months
- Consult with health care provider prior to adding peanuts – specialized testing may be needed
- Infants with mild or moderate eczema
- Add peanut-containing foods around 6 months
- Infants without eczema or any food allergy
- Add peanuts to infant diet as appropriate/desired
- IN ALL CASES, start babies on other solids before adding peanut-containing foods
If you have specific questions or concerns about introducing your child to peanuts, speak to your pediatrician or family doctor.
Nobody knows for sure what causes asthma, but we do know you’re more likely to develop it if you have a family history of asthma, eczema or other allergies. You’re twice as likely to develop asthma if your parents have it.
Modern lifestyles, such as housing and diet, also may have contributed to the rise in asthma over the last 30 years.
Every 10 seconds someone has a potentially life-threatening asthma attack, and the latest data shows that deaths from asthma are on the rise again.
What Causes Asthma?
There are many theories about what’s caused the increase in the number of people with asthma.
One of the most popular is the “hygiene hypothesis”. According to this theory, asthma is more common in western societies. Because western society is becoming cleaner, we have less exposure to allergens and pathogens.
When a person with asthma comes into contact with a “trigger”, their airways become irritated. The muscles tighten, the airways narrow, and the lining of the airways gets inflamed and swollen.
The main symptoms are chest “wheeze” or noisy breathing, chest tightness and breathlessness. You may also develop a cough, particularly at night, but this is more common in children.
Boys under the age of two are more susceptible to asthma because their airways are narrower when they’re younger. But they usually grow out of it, whereas girls are more likely to have asthma beyond puberty.
Find out more in Are we too clean for our own good?
Smoking and Asthma
Smoking also has a definite impact. Parents’ cigarette smoke will affect their child’s lung function development, and it irritates the airways. People with asthma are advised not to smoke.
Research shows that smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of your child developing asthma. Children whose parents smoke are also more likely to develop the condition.
Once you have asthma, high levels of pollution and smoking may make it worse. But there’s no proof that these triggers actually cause it.
How to Help Yourself/Your Child
If certain things trigger your asthma, such as dust mites, minimise your exposure to them. Put mattress covers on your bed, use a damp cloth when you dust, don’t have too many soft furnishings in your house, and put down laminate or wooden flooring instead of carpets.
Asthma triggers include pets, but studies show that getting rid of animals doesn’t improve asthma. In fact, the emotional upset of getting rid of your pet may make your asthma worse. Keep your exposure to pets to a minimum in areas such as the bedroom, and consider not getting any new pets.
If you have symptoms more than three times a week and you need to use a reliever inhaler (usually blue), you should also use a preventer inhaler (usually brown).
But if you only have symptoms a few times a week when exercising, you can manage your symptoms safely with a reliever inhaler before you exercise.
Asthma is an inflammatory disease. This means preventative treatment is vital, and you must take it even when your asthma symptoms aren’t present. This will ensure your asthma is well controlled.
Review your treatment with your asthma nurse or GP (*family doctor) at least once a year as you might be able to reduce your dosage of medicine.
Find out more information about asthma treatments.
Taking Steroids When You Have Asthma
Because asthma is caused by an inflammation of the airways, anti-inflammatory drugs such as steroids are sometimes used to treat it.
You may be concerned about the potential side effects of steroids, such as weight gain, stunted growth (in children) and weakened bones.
The risk of side effects if you or your child are using a steroid inhaler is lower than with steroid tablets because less of the medicine gets into your system. With both steroid inhalers and tablets, the risk of side effects increases if the dose is high and if you use them for long periods.
Generally, if inhaled steroids are prescribed carefully and at the lowest dose needed, the risk of side effects is outweighed by the ability to reduce your or your child’s need for steroid tablets. Discuss the risks of steroid treatment with your doctor if you’re concerned.
If you have queries about any aspect of asthma, you can call the Asthma UK helpline, which is a free telephone helpline staffed by asthma nurse specialists on 0800 121 62 44, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.
Asthma Resources in the US:
Editor’s Note: *clarification provided for our US readers.
Chances are most of us knows someone with a food allergy. With the holidays practically beating down our door and food arriving from every direction, what steps can we take to ensure that everyone is kept out of harm’s way? After all, the holidays are about giving, eating, sharing and loving. How can we accomplish all of this when some of us are still unsure of the safety rules? I feel that I am safe to speak on behalf of most families who have food allergies; we all have unspoken wish lists that fill our hearts with joy whenever anyone abides by them.
- Include Us We understand that this can be tricky and even cause extra work for many of you. We know that your lives are just as busy as our own. We also know that many people truly want to include people with food allergies in their plans but they just don’t know how. Begin by including us in your plans rather than making us feel as if we are invading your plans. We will help you every step of the way because the mere fact that you care for us enough to offer means so very much to all of us.
- Listen to Us This might be the most difficult part for you; your mind is already spinning in multiple directions. If you want to include us, listening is an absolute necessary part of planning for safety. If you ask a question about menus or foods or products, realize that whatever we tell you is for a precise reason. Write it down, ask us multiple times if you have too but please be sure and listen to what we say.
- Consider Our Journey Remember that none of us with food allergies asked to have a food allergy. No matter what you think we say, do or request is some secret way to cause aggravation that is not our purpose at all. Our food requests are not about you- they are all about us. Is this a bit selfish- yes but it can mean life or death so it must be this way.
- Be Honest With Us If you feel unsure at any time with what we have told you to stay safe, tell us. Many of us are still trying to figure out all of the rules about our allergies so we absolutely don’t expect you to understand them either. Tell us you want us there but that you don’t feel that you can offer us safe foods. Honesty is like a safety hug.
- Discuss the Menu with Us Go over the menu and ask us if there is anything that we are able to eat. We do ask that you be patient with us when we ask what may seem like thousands of questions. This is how our lives are and we are just used to investigating every single detail about our foods. You may learn things that you didn’t even know about your foods from us.
- BYOF It’s perfectly fine to ask us to bring our own food! In fact, many of us travel with foods most of the time so that we are safe and there is no added pressure to us or to our hosts. We love our food just as much as you do but in the end, being safe and spending quality time with our friends and family is what counts the most.
There are just a few more wishes for the people who visit us in our homes as well. You might even say it is just part of our routine rather than wishes. Remember not to be offended or think that we are exaggerating- we will welcome you with open arms but it’s our house and our rules. These were put into place because this is what our home needs to avoid an allergic reaction. Remember – it’s my child’s life – I can’t care if people get offended – he could die, period. It’s not my job to make everyone else feel comfortable – only to keep my son safe and alive. That trumps everything! Trust me when I say that nothing turns a holiday into a bad memory faster than watching an allergic reaction. So all that said, I think you’ll understand a little more clearly why we insist on the following:
Wash your hands Do not stop to shake hands, do not touch my child’s face, do not touch any of our foods until you have washed your hands please. We are not afraid of germs- we are afraid of what allergic ingredients are hiding on your hands. That candy bar that you moved around inside of your purse to get to your lipstick? That could be fatal to us.
Please Don’t Debate Washing your hands or following our safety rules is not up for discussion. Our family has special needs and you must follow our request. You do not know all of the reasons and you don’t need too. We don’t need to know why you don’t agree with some of them. Please respect us enough to keep us safe- we will do the same for you.
Ask Before You Bring Food Don’t take this the wrong way- again, we love our foods. We appreciate that you want to share with us and feed us. But chances are, we won’t be able to eat what you have spent your time and effort to make for us. If you are thinking of bringing food, ask us what products we like and make us a gift bag of those items (keep them in the package- even preparing allergy-friendly items has its own set of safety rules).
Every family has a holiday routine and we would love to learn yours. This year, spending time with each other can be the best gift we are given. Take pictures, swap recipe ideas and cook with each to learn new methods of cooking and how to use new ingredients. If you are wondering what you should bring to the table, kindness is always an absolute winner.
“Is it all clear? Are they gone?” He looks out the window, shrinking back behind the curtain.
“No, but are they GONE?!”
“I said yes! What, are you paranoid now?”
“I just don’t want them to come back and catch us.” They look at each other, not believing that they are going to try to get away with this. They are adults, they are parents, how could they stoop to doing something so low? The husband hugs his wife and she stares ahead.
“Is it pure?”
“Yes,” her husband assures her “The guy assured me it was pure, nothing else added.”
“But what if something happens?” Her eyes are large and filled with concern.
“Nothing will happen. I told you, I will take care of you. Don’t you trust me?”
“I do, I guess.” She lets out a sigh and they start to lay everything out in front of them. The smell is unbelievably addictive and tantalizing. Her husband takes a deep sniff.
“God!” he yells, filling his lungs with the smell of it “I forgot how good this stuff just smells!”
“Well don’t hog it all, leave some for me! You are not the only one going through withdrawal!”
“Age before beauty, honey, age before beauty.” His wife smacks him and glares at him.
“It’s beauty BEFORE age! What kind of husband are you anyway? What kind of support are you showing me here? I am freaking out!” He reaches over to her.
“Relax, honey. It will be fine. It’ll all be fine. Just take a deep breath, relax and try some, you’ll feel better. I promise.”
“All right, ok..I’m going to try it.”
“Here, you’re doing it wrong,” her husband says, grabbing it out of her hands “Here, you have to cut it up really small to get the full effect.”
“Well how am I supposed to remember when we haven’t had it in so many years? What are you, an expert now?” She looks at him. Then, she realizes what’s been going on this whole time. His eyes grow large because she knows what he’s been doing behind her back without her. She looks at him, horrified.
“No, please tell me you haven’t! Please tell me this whole time you haven’t had this without me!”
“Maybe, just every once in awhile,” he stammers.
“How could you?! I thought we were in this together! Why am I always the one sacrificing for our family and you- YOU go out and enjoy yourself whenever you want to!”
“I’m sorry, honey, I was weak! I needed it! I couldn’t take it anymore! I was out with the guys and someone else had some and they offered it to me and I just said yes. What was I supposed to do?”
“What were you supposed to do? How about think about what could have happened if you were to bring something like that home to your family? Did you even once consider what could have happened if your children had been exposed to it? Did you?” Her eyes were filling up with disbelief.
“I know, I know, I know!” he started to yell “I know! I couldn’t help it!”
Shaking her head, his wife reminded him “We could have been right back in the Emergency Room again! Calling 911, dealing with all of the possible side effects and the dangers that come with it!”
“I’m sorry, I said I was sorry! Here, take it all, I don’t want any of it… just take it and keep it away from me to keep the kids safe!” He pushed it toward his wife. She looked at it carefully.
“What, and waste it? Seriously? No!” she said, shoving it into her mouth, chewing and swallowing as fast as she could.
“I’m getting rid of the evidence, that’s what! I don’t want the children to know that we had this. I am so ashamed..just so ashamed! What has happened to us? When did we turn into these people?”
“Wait! Shhh!!!” motions her husband and he turns off the radio. “I heard something!” She laughs at him.
“Now you are the one who is paranoid.”
“No, I mean it! I heard something! Didn’t you hear it too?”
“Crap, yes! Oh my God, we have to clean this up! We have to get rid of it and clean it all up!”
“Where is the sponge?”
“No!” she screams “You can’t use the sponge, it will just smear!! Get the Lysol wipes! Hurry up!”
Just then, the door flies open and their children come running in, followed by their Grandparents.
“Sorry, they forgot their-” …the kids step forward.
“Mom, Dad? Is that cake?”
We see a ton of children and their families with a variety of food allergies here at Lemond Nutrition. It is quite a life-encompassing ordeal living with a food allergy. Add onto the fact that you are a child, and each year there is a holiday that involves a kid-centered celebration that exposes them to all kinds of exposure risk and you’ve got a recipe for heartache and challenges for these folks. Don’t let another child dread Halloween. Let’s band together and make things better for them!
The Teal Pumpkin Project is a growing initiative that was started by the Food Allergy Research & Education organization that encourages people to offer non-food treats at Halloween. The process is simple:
1) Take the pledge. By doing this, you will add your home address to a national database that allows families to know who is offering non-food treats.
2) Provide those non-food treats and let people know you are participating by placing a teal pumpkin outside your home and hanging a free, printable sign announcing your offering.
The cool thing is that you don’t have to choose food or non-food giveaways – you can do both like we are doing in our home. There is a sign that says you are providing both or just the non-food items. The choice is yours.
Let us all support children and their families this Halloween by allowing them to enjoy Halloween like their friends. The more homes out there that offer options for them, the more fun they will have this holiday season. And a bonus for your family! This is such a great thing to teach our children by participating in an initiative like this – that it’s important to think of others. For more information on The Teal Pumpkin Project and other great things that the Food Allergy Research and Education organization is doing, visit http://www.foodallergy.org.
May you have a Happy and safe Halloween! And remember, Halloween is only one night a year. Let your kids enjoy their treats.