Why? Are You Allergic?: Managing a Food Allergy

By: Tony Flood   Date: 3/18/2010

My friends sometimes tease me about my aversion to shellfish when they indulge in a seafood dinner with shrimp or crab, but I refuse to eat anything with even the hint of a shrimp in it!  When out to eat or attending a party, I've had to ask, "Does this have shellfish in it?"   The response is often, "Why, are you allergic?" 

Yes.  I do have a food allergy specifically to crustacean shellfish.  Whenever I accidentally eat things like shrimp or crab my body produces antibodies towards the protein in those foods.  Potent chemicals and other cell products released by the body actually cause the symptoms seen in an allergic reaction.  It's something I experienced just last week while out trying a new restaurant.  There must have been some crab that came in contact accidentally with my chicken dinner.  The experience spurred me to learn more about the importance of food allergy awareness and education. I recently learned from the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) that food allergy is an increasing public health issue here in the U.S, affecting approximately 12 million Americans like myself, And for some, unfortunately they can be potentially life threatening.  That's scary news, however, I've learned to empower myself and those around me when it comes to food allergies.

If you think you have a food allergy:
- Visit a physician who specializes in diagnosing and treating allergies, such as a board-certified allergist, to get an accurate diagnosis.  

If you have a food allergy:
- Follow your physician's orders for allergy management.  This may include carrying a prescription of epinephrine at all times.
- Check labels on food products to reduce the risk of exposure to allergen.
- When dining out, be proactive.  Notify restaurants where you plan on eating either before or upon arrival to alert them of your situation, and do the same for hosts of parties or other social functions where food will be served.  Help others help you.
      o Check out how someone with food allergies manages social events.

If a loved one has a food allergy:
- Remember, reactions are never planned!  People think they are eating a safe food.
- Have a plan for potential food allergy reactions.  Know what may trigger a reaction, who to call, how to respond, where medication is kept, etc...

For the rest of us:
- Understand the severity of food allergies.  Many Hollywood movies like to make a joke out of allergic reactions or paint unflattering pictures of people who are food allergic; however, the truth of the matter is that food allergies are potentially fatal and affect nearly 1 in 25 Americans.
- Be supportive if you have a friend or a guest who has a food allergy.  Ask how you can help and measures you can take to ensure safety.
       o Some basic food safety procedures can sometimes help reduce the risk of exposure to food allergens.

  Keep in mind that food allergy reactions are not nearly as funny as Will Smith in "Hitch".  We can all play a part in reducing the risk of food allergies.  If we communicate with each other, we can make our shared meals enjoyable and safe.

How do you manage food allergies?

For more information on food allergy, visit:
FoodInsight.org Resources on Food Allergy
The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN)
American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI)