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National Allergy Awareness Month

May 19, 2018 GMT

While many of us are sneezing our way through the pollen season, we should also remember many people are affected by food allergies every day.

Food allergies are a growing health concern, especially for children. It is estimated that 6 million children, or 8 percent of the child population, have food allergies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that these numbers are on the rise — increasing 50 percent between 1997 and 2011.

A food allergy is a condition in which a person’s immune system reacts abnormally to a component of a food. Some allergic symptoms are mild, but some can be life-threatening, with serious symptoms that happen quickly. Ninety percent of all allergies are caused by these eight foods: milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish.

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There is no cure for food allergies. The best preventative strategy for food allergies is to strictly avoid the foods that are allergens. Children with known food allergies should also have epinephrine, an adrenaline medication, available to them at all times to treat anaphylaxis, which is a form of shock.

Managing food allergies is challenging, especially in the school environment. More than 15 percent of school-aged children with food allergies have had reactions in school, and approximately 20 to 25 percent of epinephrine administrations in schools were for children whose allergies were unknown at the time of the reaction.

Allergic reactions can happen anywhere, not just in the school cafeteria. To be better prepared to help someone during an allergic reaction, make yourself aware of the following:

Symptoms of a food allergy response may include watery eyes, sneezing, difficulty breathing, itching, hives and shock to name a few.

Encourage those with allergies to make others aware by carrying a card which identifies their allergy and who to contact if there is an allergic reaction.

Know if those you work with carry an epinephrine pen to treat severe allergic responses.

If your loved one or co-worker carries an epinephrine pen, take the necessary training to know how and when to use it.

Food borne allergens can carry in the air. When taking food to a community event, avoid the 8 most allergenic foods: milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish.

More information about these resources can be found on the Food and Nutrition Service’s website at: www.fns.usda.gov/ofs/food-safety; the Institute of Child Nutrition at www.theicn.org or by calling their Help Desk at 800-321-3054. Source: Charlsia Fortner Food Safety Specialist, Office of Food Safety, Supplemental Nutrition and Safety Programs.

Julie Buck, EdD, RDN, is a registered dietitian, and Family and Consumer Sciences educator employed at the University of Idaho Extension, Bingham County. She can be reached at (208)785-8060 or jhbuck@uidaho.edu.

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