On navigating the food scene with a severe a food allergy

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Have you felt frustrated while traveling because you may want to try an authentic chicken pad Thai with savory peanut sauce but can’t due to a severe food allergy reaction to one of the ingredients? A food restriction is the most unfortunate situation any foodie can be in as it limits the options of your palate.

Thankfully, you have several options to manage the food scene and still enjoy tasty menus with safer alternatives. Below are valuable strategies to help you.

Consequences of Accidental Food Allergy

An estimated 32.2% of adults and 24.1% of children experience unintentional allergic reactions due to cross-contamination. An example is when ice cream parlor staff use the same scoop to spoon chocolate and peanut butter flavors to different customers. Someone with peanut allergies is likely to get symptoms through cross-contact. You may experience the following:

  • Swelling of the lips
  • Hives or eczema
  • Tingling and itching of the mouth
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Wheezing or trouble breathing
  • Belly pain and diarrhea

These may improve after taking medications. However, anaphylaxis may occur as a result of a severe allergic reaction, which can be life-threatening. Signs may include:

  • Tightening of airways
  • A swollen throat
  • Shock due to a severe decline in blood pressure
  • Loss of consciousness

If someone is experiencing any of these indications, ensure they get immediate medical help, as it may lead to coma or death.

Tips on Navigating the Food Scene Safely

Food sensitivities create a layer of anxiety for those who have it. You can sidestep mild to severe allergic reactions by learning to get around the food scene. Here are some useful tips for you.

1. Plan Your Meals

Cooking at home is the safest option since you can customize the ingredients for your meals. Prepare your own meals based on ingredients you can use more freely and skip those that trigger your allergy. In addition, it's easy to segregate allergens and prevent contamination using designated cookware.

For your favorite dishes, substitute one or two things for allergen-free foods. An easy way to do this is to map out your meal for the next week so you know what ingredients to buy, reducing the need for spontaneous takeout or food delivery that may lead to allergic reactions.

2. Use the Food Allergy Stations in Your Workplace

There's no doubt the home offers flexibility in your food selections. Meanwhile, such freedom in food choices used to be challenging to obtain in the workplace cafe — but the trend is changing thanks to the introduction of allergy stations.

There's a growing demand for incorporating these in corporate cafeterias to suit the needs of employees with allergies. A make-to-order style is the perfect arrangement for this, as it offers a full kitchen setup that allows those with food restrictions to customize their meals based on their needs and preferences.

3. Keep a List of Food Establishments

Keep a record of restaurants or beverage shops within your area offering allergy-free meals. Many have menus that let you modify your order by removing or replacing one or two ingredients to avoid a food allergy.

If you order your favorite latte, ask the barista if they can substitute full-cream milk with plant-based like oat, almond or soy. Lactose intolerance is just one of the many reasons why non-dairy alternatives are filling up the grocery shelves.

About 68% of the global population can't digest lactose properly, resulting in bloating and diarrhea. Squirrel away a list of allergy-free dining options to avoid these troublesome symptoms.

4. Research Food Options at Your Travel Destination

Allergy management is tricky when you’re traveling. Prepare by researching your options before you board a flight to get an idea of the food landscape in your next destination.

For example, sesame seeds are a staple in Asian dishes and frequently used as a garnish in salads, breads and sautés. According to the FDA, they're now a major allergen comparable to peanuts, milk, eggs, soy, wheat and tree nuts. If you have a food allergy, inspect the dishes you buy from restaurants before eating or ask the staff to exclude them.

Remember also to bring your medications everywhere you go. Recently, the FDA has approved Xolair — an injectible drug that treats asthma to lower serious allergic reactions if you're unintentionally exposed to triggers. Taking it through injection will allow you to tolerate 600 milligrams of peanut protein without reactions, including other allergens like tree nuts, milk, egg and wheat.

Before you leave the country, ask your care provider if they can put you on therapy to lower your worries while on the road. You can also get a prefilled syringe, which you can self-administer after receiving training on the proper way to do it from your health care provider.

5. Give Event Organizers a Heads-up

Another challenging situation is attending events hosted by friends, like a birthday party or anniversary. It's customary for hosts to ask prospective guests for food restrictions to plan around their menus.

If they miss it, let them know your preferences beforehand. Moreover, give them substitute examples — such as eggs with applesauce or ground flaxseed — so they know how best to cater to your food allergy needs. You can also offer to bring an allergen-free side dish for the entire party. 

Coping Strategies to Stay Safe

If you have any food allergies, here are valuable tips to cope with any situation.

  • Read food labels to avoid unintentional reactions. 
  • Be aware of the potential direct or indirect contact using the same utensils or cookware. 
  • Inquire for non-allergic substitutes if you're dining in or buying restaurant takeouts. 
  • Recognize early signs of an allergic reaction so you can take prompt action.
  • Prepare an emergency action plan for anyone who can respond in a severe situation.
  • The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology has a form you can fill out that provides all details of your symptoms, including your medications. It can guide your families, friends, and caregivers on what to do next in a worst-case scenario.

Reduce Anxiety With a Food Allergy by Knowing What to Do

It's all about being aware of what you can do to empower yourself and others around you in unimaginable situations. While you can control an allergic reaction by preparing your own meals at home, navigating the food scene outside your personal space — such as the workplace or when traveling — is tricky. 

Since you don't know how the dishes are prepared, there is a high risk of accidental exposure and cross-contact. Therefore, always bringing medications with you is your safest bet to prevent the worst outcomes. Be proactive in managing food allergies.

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