Food Allergy Awareness
In 1998, the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, now FARE, created Food Allergy Awareness Week to help educate the public on the potentially life-threatening medical condition of food allergies. This year, Food Allergy Awareness Week is observed May 8-14, 2016, and the entire month of May is dedicated to Food Allergy Action Month. The month is a unique opportunity to help educate and raise awareness by bringing food allergies to the center stage. Even if you don't have a food allergy, there are many ways to get involved to help keep those with food allergies safe. The easiest way to help is to take action and start learning about food allergies!
In the United States food allergies affect nearly 15 million people, including almost 6 million kids, and the number is growing. In fact, there was a 50% increase in food allergies among children from 1997 to 2011. Now, food allergies affect 1 in 13 children.
What is a Food Allergy?
A food allergy reaction happens when the body's immune system mistakes a normally harmless food protein, or allergen, as a threat to the body and attacks it. Symptoms of a food allergy reaction vary and can affect multiple areas of the body. A food allergy diagnosis should always be made by a doctor.
Food Allergy vs. Food Intolerance:
A food intolerance is not immune system related, is not life-threatening, and is not the same as a food allergy. However, some symptoms of a food intolerance may be similar to mild food allergy reaction symptoms (such as upset stomach and nausea). If you have a reaction to a particular food, it is always best to have your doctor determine whether you have a food intolerance or a food allergy.
People can be allergic to any food, but the most common food allergens are: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish.
These foods account for 90% of all food allergy reactions. Children may outgrow milk, egg, or soy allergies while food allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish tend to be lifelong.
Food Allergy Reaction Symptoms
An allergic reaction to food can affect the skin, gastrointestinal tract, respiratory tract, and even the cardiovascular system. Symptoms usually appear within minutes to several hours after eating the food allergen. Even a very small amount of a food allergen can trigger a reaction. Reactions can range from a mild response to anaphylaxis, a severe and potentially deadly reaction. Remember, children may describe an allergic reaction differently than adults. Click here to learn ways a child might describe an allergic reaction.
Mild reaction symptoms may include at least one of the following:
Severe reaction symptoms may include at least one of the following:
Severe symptoms, alone or in combination with milder symptoms, may be signs of anaphylaxis and require immediate medical attention.
Managing Food Allergies
There is no cure for food allergies. To successfully manage food allergies, both diet and lifestyle changes are required. These changes may seem overwhelming at first, but things will get easier over time and many resources are available to help. Strict avoidance of the food allergen and early recognition and management of allergic reactions to food are important steps to take to prevent possibly serious health consequences.
Carefully reading food labels will also become a routine part of managing food allergies. The law requires that the labels of foods containing the major food allergens must note the allergen in plain language, either in the ingredient list or via:
- the word "contains" followed by the name of the major food allergen. For example, "Contains Wheat, Milk, and Soy"
- in the ingredient list in parentheses. For example, "lecithin (soy), flour (wheat), and whey (milk)"
Remember, food manufacturers can change their products' ingredients without warning, so be sure to check the ingredient list every time you buy the product - even if you have eaten it before without an allergic reaction. Lastly, if you are unsure if a food contains the allergen you are allergic to, don't eat it - when in doubt, leave it out!
Food Allergies and Special Dietary Needs at School
If your student has a food allergy or special dietary need that may need a specific meal accommodation at school, please click here for more information.
For more information on Food Allergies, visit:
Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE)
Kids with Food Allergies
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NISID)
American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology
Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Connection Team (FAACT)
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Food Allergies and Intolerances