The holidays can be a particularly difficult time for people with food allergies. But one health expert suggests that these folks can still enjoy festive gatherings, as long as they take certain precautions.
About 5 percent of children and 4 percent of adults in the United States have a food allergy, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The most common allergens are milk, egg, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish.
“It’s important for people to remember that even though the main ingredients in a dish may be fine, some ingredients can be hidden and cause allergic reactions,” said Dr. Russell Traister. He is an allergist and immunologist at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C.
People with food allergies need to be aware of cross-contamination. For example, peanut protein can remain on a bowl or work surface for up to five hours and still cause a severe reaction for someone with a peanut allergy.
In addition, people with food allergies should always have an EpiPen or the generic version of the epinephrine auto-injector with them. They should make sure it has not expired, and that friends and family members know how to use it, Traister said.
If you’re attending a holiday gathering with a child or other family member who has food allergies, bring at least one dish that’s safe for them in case there aren’t any other options, he said.
If you’re hosting a get-together, keep all prepared food packaging so guests can check the ingredients for any potential allergens.
Food allergy symptoms can range from rashes, coughing and vomiting to potentially life-threatening reactions, such as swelling of the tongue and the inability to breathe.
“If you think you or a friend or family member is having an allergic reaction and you don’t have an epinephrine auto-injector with you, call 911 immediately or go to the closest emergency department,” Traister said in a Wake Forest news release.
“Even if you use your epinephrine auto-injector, you should still seek medical attention to prevent a second reaction,” he added.
The American Academy of Family Physicians has more on food allergies.