A recent study published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology concluded that "Increased food allergy knowledge among the general public is needed." This is no surprise to those of us who have food allergies or food allergic family members. Let's take a closer look at a few of the more common myths and misconceptions and set the record straight.
Myth: My child only has a certain kind of reaction (hives, stomach ache) so that is how he/she will always react.
Truth: Reactions Vary. One reaction can be "only" hives; the next can be full-blown anaphylaxis. Even if your child typically reacts in a certain way, be aware of all potential symptoms of anaphylaxis. I know this one first hand. My son reacted with hives each time he encountered an allergen, except for his very worst reaction, when he had almost every symptom of anaphylaxis except hives.
Myth: If a label does not have a "may contains" or "processed in a facility" warning, it means the product is "safe"
Truth: False. Those precautionary (i.e. "may contains") warnings are voluntary. Just because a company chooses not to tell you about potential cross contamination does not mean that the product is safe. If there is concern, call the company to ask about manufacturing practices, or purchase only allergy friendly products, like Enjoy Life, Lucy's or CherryBrook Kitchen.
Myth: In the United States, food labels must list every ingredient.
Truth: Sadly, this is not true. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) requires that the labels of foods regulated by the FDA identify ingredients containing the eight major food allergens (milk, wheat, egg, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shell fish and soy.) This type of labeling is not required on foods regulated by the USDA (meat, poultry), alcoholic beverages, over-the-counter or prescription drugs, cosmetics or health and beauty aids (toothpaste, mouthwash etc.) In addition, FALCPA does not cover fresh produce (fruits and vegetables) or highly refined oils even if derived from one of the major allergens. (For example, refined peanut oil does not need to be identified as "peanut") And those of us dealing with less common allergies, such as sesame, garlic or mustard, need to remember that these foods can hide behind words such as "natural flavors" or "spices"
Myth: My child is a teenager now so we can let our guard down. He knows better than to eat something he is allergic to.
Truth: Teenagers and young adults are actually the most vulnerable to severe or even fatal reactions. Teens can be impulsive and more than anything they want to fit in. These behaviors may make them reluctant to ask questions about ingredients or to call attention to themselves in any way if they feel they are reacting to something. Teens and tweens need as much or more education on how to advocate for themselves to stay safe.
Myth: If a reaction starts with "only hives" or sneezing or a runny nose, it will only be a mild one.
Truth: Once a reaction starts; there is no way to predict its course or severity. A life threatening reaction may develop quickly or slowly over the course of several hours. Be vigilant and always follow your Food Allergy Action Plan and physicians instructions.
Myth: There is a cure for food allergies.
Truth: There are a variety of promising treatments in the works. Research continues but there is no proven treatment that is widely available at this time. Strict avoidance of food allergens is the only way to avoid an allergic reaction at this time.
Myth: Our Epi-Pen has expired. We can't use it at all.
Truth: Although it is imperative that all medications are kept up to date, in the event of an emergency, it may be wise to use the expired epinephrine auto-injector if it is all that you have, as long as the medication is not discolored. Studies have shown that epinephrine does lose potency after the expirations date, but the benefit of using the expired medicine far outweighs the risk of using nothing at all in the event of an allergic reaction. To be safe, check the expiration dates and refill the prescriptions regularly.
Myth: Peanut allergy is the most common food allergy in the US.
Truth: Milk and egg are the most common food allergy in children. Fish and shellfish are the most common allergies in adults.
Myth: Epinephrine (Epi-Pen or Twinject) stops all allergic reactions. You can "wait and see" how the reaction will progress.
Truth: In an anaphylactic reaction, seconds can count. Epinephrine should be used as prescribed by your physician and in a timely fashion if it is needed. A delay in administering epinephrine can be dangerous. In rare cases, the epinephrine cannot "catch up" with a severe reaction. Always follow your doctor's instructions on when to administer epinephrine (Epi-Pen or Twinject).
Myth: Peanut allergy is the only really dangerous food allergy.
Truth: This myth makes it hard for parents of children with other food allergies. The truth is that it is possible to have an allergy to any food and life-threatening reactions to a number of different foods have been reported. However, here in the United States, peanut and tree nuts are potent allergens that trigger most fatal and near fatal allergic reactions.
These myths and misconceptions paint a picture that is inaccurate and can make accommodations look silly or unnecessary. If we each do our part by educating others whenever possible, we make the world a little safer for our children. It won't happen over night but each time you educate someone, it's like applying one coat of paint. You may need to apply quite a few coats, but sooner or later, things are going to look a whole lot brighter