May is Food Allergy Awareness month! What does that even mean? For me, it means the launch of my new blog. I’ve wanted to make this blog for a couple of years now. So, in honor of Food Allergy Awareness Month, I present, Our Food Allergy Life. This is how we deal with allergies. My husband is the one with most of the stuff: egg and peanut allergies, tree nut, banana, and milk sensitivities, and eosinophilic esophagitis (EOE).
The allergy community is quite large. In the United States, there are 50 million people who have allergies, and 32 million of them have food allergies. That’s almost 10 percent of Americans with food allergies: one in every ten people. You probably know these people even if you don’t know they have allergies. Not all allergy sufferers broadcast their special dietary needs to the world. However, I’m sure that everyone with allergies would appreciate it if you knew a little about what goes on in the food allergy world.
So, what’s the deal with food allergies?
Allergies are an immune response to harmless proteins. Our bodies response similarly to viruses or bacteria, but it’s not the same mechanism. When we get sick, our bodies attempt to fight the infection, and the severity of our sickness varies depending on the type of infection and how strong our immune systems are. Similarly, allergies give people the symptoms of being sick without an infection to fight, and reactions vary depending on the allergen and how hard their body wants to attack the non-existent infection.
Allergic reactions can range from mild (annoying) to severe (could kill you). Food allergies are foods that cause these kinds of reactions. They can be any food. However, eight foods cause 90 percent of all reactions: eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, soy, fish, and shellfish. In the whole world, 3.5 percent of people have food allergies.
How are they different from environmental allergies?
Well, they’re not too different at all. One is the food you eat to survive. The other is the environment you live in. Both affect your life. Both can have mild to severe reactions. Both are caused by the immune system going a little berserk. Many people with food allergies also have seasonal and pet allergies. It may seem like environmental allergies are not as intense as food allergies, that these severe reactions never happen. But, I think that is just an awareness thing.
Food allergy advocacy is higher because eating and food is such a social event for humans. People with only environmental allergies have to adjust their lifestyle, but not in quite the drastic way that people with food allergies have to. In fact, for some, it is better to go outside than to stay inside because pollution levels are higher inside a house where the air stagnates than they are outside a house, where the wind circulates things around.
What is a mild reaction?
A mild allergic reaction is the stuffy, runny nose, sneezing and watery eyes, hives on the skin, and mild eczema. These are all the classic things people think of when they think of seasonal allergies. They also happen with food allergies. Other mild to moderate allergic reactions include skin redness around the mouth and eyes, itchy mouth or ear canal, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, a cough, and an odd taste in your mouth.
I don’t have any food allergies that we know of, but I did develop seasonal allergies while pregnant with our first child. They made me very nauseous, but Benadryl took care of it. At the time I thought it was because I have extreme morning sickness when I’m pregnant. But years later, even when I am not pregnant, if I feel nauseous during the spring, I take a Claritin, and within the hour, I’m feeling fine.
What is a severe reaction?
Severe allergic reactions are the kinds that could kill you, and they happen with both food and environmental allergies. These are swelling that blocks breathing (could be the lips, tongue or throat), difficulty swallowing, wheezing, a drop in blood pressure that makes you feel faint, weak, confused or pass out, chest pain, and anaphylaxis.
Anaphylaxis is the life-threatening allergic reaction that requires an epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen, Auvi-Q, and AdrenaClick). It is okay to use epinephrine to treat severe allergic reactions, even if you aren’t sure if it is anaphylaxis. If you are to the point of wondering if you should use your auto-injector, then you should use it. Nurses and hospital staff might question your judgment once you get to the ER, but you will be safe.
Currently, there is a shortage of epinephrine auto-injectors. It’s scary. However, my husband found an article that debated using medication past its expiration date. The conclusion was that in the case of epinephrine auto-injectors, you should use an expired one if that’s all you have, but don’t use the expired one over the non-expired one.