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What Is a Food Allergy? A food allergy is when your body’s immune system reacts to a food protein because it has mistaken that food protein as a threat. The food you are allergic to is called a “food allergen.” The response your body has to the food is called an “allergic reaction.” People can be allergic to any food, but eight foods cause most food allergy reactions. They are: milk, egg, peanuts, tree nuts (such as walnuts or pecans), wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish (such as lobster, prawns/shrimp or crab).
What Is the Difference Between a Food Allergy and a Food Intolerance? Unlike a food intolerance, food allergies involve the immune system and can be life-threatening. With a food allergy, your immune system makes too much of an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). IgE antibodies fight the “threatening” food allergens by releasing histamine and other chemicals. This chemical release causes the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
A food intolerance is when your body has trouble digesting a food. It can make you feel badly, usually with an upset stomach or gass, but it is not life-threatening. The most common intolerance is to lactose, which is a natural sugar found in milk.
Are Allergic Reactions Serious? Yes. Allergic reactions can range from mild to very serious. The most dangerous reaction is called anaphylaxis (pronounced an-uh-fil-LAX-is). Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that happens quickly and may cause death.
Anaphylaxis can affect several areas of the body. It can make it hard to breathe and make it hard for your body to circulate blood. The first-line treatment for anaphylaxis is a medicine called epinephrine.
Carefully avoiding problem foods is the only way to prevent allergic reactions.
Managing Food Allergies:What You Need to Know
Avoid Problem Foods : Even a trace amount of a problem food can cause a serious reaction. Learn how to find your problem foods in both obvious and unexpected places. Read every label, every time.
Ingredients in packaged foods may change without warning. Check ingredient statements every time you shop. Even the same product from the same company can have different warning labels. If you have questions, call the manufacturer. Federal law requires packaged food labels to list when one of the top eight food allergens is an intended ingredient. The top eight food allergens are: milk, egg, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish.
Read more about this law and tips for avoiding unintended ingredients at http://www.foodallergy.org/food-labels
Be mindful of cross-contact: Cross-contact happens when a food that is an allergen comes into contact with a safe food and their proteins mix. As a result, each food contains small amounts of the other food. These amounts are so small that they usually can’t be seen. One example of cross-contact is when the same utensil is used to serve a food that contains an allergen and a safe food. Cross-contact can happen in restaurants, school cafeterias, home kitchens, or anywhere that an allergen may be present.
Get more tips for avoiding cross-contact at www.foodallergy.org/cross-contact.
Safety First! Never take a chance by trying “just a bite” of a food that may contain your allergen. Even a tiny amount can put your life at risk.
Plan Ahead: No matter how hard you try to avoid food allergens, accidents will happen. These simple steps go a long way in being prepared for an allergic reaction. Always carry your epinephrine auto-injector. Epinephrine is the only medicine that can stop life-threatening reactions. Carry your epinephrine auto-injector with you at all times and check to make sure it has not expired, is kept at a safe temperature, and that it has not been damaged.
Fill out a Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Emergency Care Plan with your allergist. These plans tell you and/or those who care for your child how to recognize and respond to an allergic reaction.
Sample plans can be downloaded from FARE’s website in both English and Spanish at www.foodallergy.org/downloads
Know your plan and share it with others. Make sure everyone who knows you understands what to do in case of an emergency. Keep your Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Emergency Care Plan in a place where others can find it. For parents, give your child’s plan and medicines to their school or preschool as soon as possible.
Wear medical identification. Medical IDs will help protect you or your loved one—at home or wherever you may be during an emergency.