Baptist Health Hardin provides guidance for those navigating food allergies during the holidays
The most common sources of food allergies are tree nuts, eggs, milk, soy, wheat, peanuts, fish, shellfish, and sesame.
ELIZABETHTOWN, KY (Dec. 22, 2022) – For people with food allergies or disorders like celiac disease, the fun and excitement of the holidays come with an increased risk of contact with allergens at parties and celebrations.
Foods prepared by others may have ingredients that can cause an immune or digestive system reaction, which can quickly take the joy out of the season’s tastiest treats. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to minimize the risk to you and your family.
The most common sources of food allergies are tree nuts, eggs, milk, soy, wheat, peanuts, fish, shellfish, and sesame. If you or a loved one has a food allergy, you are familiar with the causes and consequences.
For those who do not have a food allergy, a quick overview can be helpful. Food allergies occur when the body mistakenly identifies a food as a harmful “invader” and releases chemicals like histamine to deal with the “attack.” Unfortunately, this response causes symptoms that can range from uncomfortable to life-threatening.
“Mild symptoms would include typically just one of the following: nausea, upset stomach, diarrhea, vomiting, rash, or itching,” said Doug Ansert, Jr., MD, FACP, FAAP, physician with Baptist Health Medical Group Internal Medicine and Pediatrics in Elizabethtown. “For people with known allergies, it is good to keep Benadryl handy in the event these symptoms do arise.”
Other symptoms that may arise include:
- Nasal congestion or a runny nose
- Coughing or sneezing
- Red skin around the eyes or mouth
- An odd taste in the mouth
- Worsening of eczema symptoms
A severe reaction may include:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Swelling of the throat, tongue or lips that inhibits breathing
- Wheezing or shortness of breath
- Skin turning blue
- Feeling weak, faint or confused from dropping blood pressure
- Loss of consciousness
- Weak pulse
- Chest pain
- Feeling fearful or panicked
The reaction to an allergen is known as anaphylaxis, and it is treated with a drug called epinephrine. If someone is having a serious food allergy reaction, it is important to administer the epinephrine or other drug prescribed by their doctor as soon as possible.
Tips for Food Allergy Safety Around the Holidays
There are some things you can do to protect yourself, or your loved ones who have food allergies, so that they can enjoy holiday events.
“It takes meticulous food preparation to avoid food allergens,” Dr. Ansert advised. “One can prepare their own dish to take to gatherings to ensure they have something to enjoy without ramifications. Prior to arrival, make your host aware of any food allergies, as they may be able to help by coordinating or preparing allergy-free dishes. Your host may even be willing to label allergy-free dishes at the party. Educate children on their food allergies and encourage them to ask permission from their parents prior to indulging in any foods they question.”
Dr. Ansert advises seeking medical attention if you develop multiple mild symptoms mentioned above, or lip or facial swelling, coughing, difficulty breathing or swallowing, wheezing, hives, flushing, odd tongue sensation, chest discomfort, or feeling faint – or any other sign of a severe reaction.
He also suggests having plenty of epinephrine or other prescribed allergy medications with you in case you or an allergic individual accidentally ingests an allergen.
“People with a history of severe allergic reactions should carry EpiPens with them along with Benadryl,” said Dr. Ansert. “If you are flying, you should bring your EpiPen on your flight with your carry-on luggage.
If you are far from home, know the location of the nearest emergency room.”
With proper precautions, there is no reason why most people with food allergies or celiac disease cannot attend and enjoy holiday parties.