This is the second in a series of three posts on food allergies. You may wish to start at the beginning by reading All about food allergies, part one. This post highlights resources for people interested in learning more about food allergies, beginning with some basic facts, followed by organizations, books and blog recommendations.
What is a food allergy? Food allergy occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks a food protein. Eating the offending food may trigger the sudden release of chemicals, including histamine, resulting in symptoms of an allergic reaction. The symptoms may be mild (rashes, hives, itching, swelling, etc.) or severe (trouble breathing, wheezing, loss of consciousness, etc.).
Will every reaction be the same? You cannot predict future food allergy reactions on past allergy reactions. If anything, you should always expect the next reaction will be worse than the last.
Is there a cure for food allergies? There is no cure. The only way to prevent a reaction is strict avoidance. Treatment for reactions is based on the severity of the individual reaction and may include a combination of an oral antihistamine (such as Benedryl) and epinephrine (EpiPen).
What kinds of foods are most people allergic to? In the United States, the eight most common food allergens are: wheat, soy, milk (dairy), eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, etc.), fish and shellfish. These ingredients account for 90% of allergic reactions in the United States.
Are food allergies kind of like food intolerance? A food allergy is much more dangerous than food intolerance, although many people think they mean the same thing. They do not. Food intolerance is not life-threatening and refers to trouble digesting food. Symptoms may include abdominal cramps, bloating and diarrhea. A food allergy occurs when the immune system reacts to a certain food and attacks it as poison. This may cause hives, asthma, or anaphylaxis.
What is anaphylaxis? Anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction that is rapid in onset and may cause death. It is basically the body going into shock, and may include difficulty breathing, becoming unresponsive, low blood pressure, vomiting and diarrhea. Common causes of anaphylaxis include food, medication, insect stings and latex. Read more about anaphylaxis on the FARE web site.
My child was just diagnosed with food allergies, where do I start? Visit this page on the FARE web site dedicated to the newly diagnosed. It talks about grocery shopping, food labels and more.
Getting the right care – find an allergist
There are many fabulous resources for individuals and families with food allergies. My first call to action is for all families with suspicion or diagnosis of food allergies to be evaluated and under the care of a board-certified allergist as quickly as possible. To find a board-certified allergist, use this physician search tool from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. If possible, look for an allergist with a pediatric specialty if the patient is a child.
Allergists know much more about food allergies than pediatricians and ER docs. If you read about our experiences with Avery in part one of this series, you saw how we received incorrect care advice from our pediatrician on food allergies. Food allergies can be life threatening, and it is my opinion that you are putting your child at great risk if you are not under the care of an allergist. I say this for two reasons – first, you may not fully understand your child’s diagnosis and the allergist can make sure the proper diagnostic tests were completed. They will help you understand the results, give you a 504 emergency action plan for family, school and daycare purposes, and counsel you on the ongoing management of the food allergies. Secondly, an allergist will educate you on how to manage an allergic reaction, such as when and how to use an EpiPen.
Did you know children have the ability to outgrow some of their food allergies? An allergist will monitor food allergies over time and determine if this is true for your individual circumstances by testing and retesting for food allergies on a regular basis.
Organizations and support groups
To find a resource and support group in your area, look here for a list.
If you live in the Twin Cities area, one of your first stops should be the Food Allergy Support Group of MN (FASGMN). Membership is free, but you need to fill out a form to get started. As soon as I submitted my form, I was contacted and offered immediate support. They connected me with another parent to be my “buddy” and she was able to answer a lot of my questions. This was a lifesaver to me! They hold meetings every other month and feature reputable speakers on food allergy topics of interest to parents. They also have a lending library with many, many books and videos on food allergies to check out. I’ve saved quite a bit of money this way!
The Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) is the leading national organization dedicated to awareness, education, research, advocacy, and publications. The web site has a lot of useful, accurate information about food allergies, pdfs you can download, and an amazing list of publications and movies you can buy online or over the phone. I’ve purchased many of their titles and suggest you check them out as well.
Kids with Food Allergies is another supportive community although I appreciate that this one is geared specifically towards parents and managing children’s food allergies. As a marketing professional, I also love that they have a great logo! Another food allergy mom pointed me to this site and said she couldn’t have made it through the first year without access to the recipes and message boards online here. After a couple of months, I finally decided to pay out the membership fee and I’m very glad I did. The message boards are extremely active and have strong moderators that help answer questions. The associate membership gives you access to limited content for free, the family membership is $25/year. I also receive regular e-mail newsletters from this group that have helpful articles, particularly about celebrating holidays with safe recipes and food alternatives.
Turning to books for information
There are many fabulous books and resources available, and I’ve read many more than are on this list, but I’m only going to mention books I’ve personally read, own and can recommend.
Food Allergies for Dummies, by Robert Wood, M.D. This book has all the basic information you need on food allergies to get started. Written by one of the leading American experts on food allergies, Dr. Wood provides both general information for parents just starting out, as well as interesting research studies. Consider this book a good source for medical information. I suggest the next book for practical tips on how to manage food allergies.
The Parent’s Guide to Food Allergies, by Marianne S. Barber. Recommended by our allergist, I’ve found it to be comprehensive and easy to follow. It includes education on the most common food allergens (an entire chapter dedicated to eggs, for example), as well as practical advice for coping and managing food allergies like traveling, school considerations and eating out.
What’s to Eat? The Milk-Free, Egg-Free, Nut-Free Food Allergy Cookbook, by Linda Coss. I’ve tried a few recipes from this book and am so glad I have it. I most appreciate the page that gives suggestions for five different combinations for seasoning chicken breasts – we eat a lot of chicken in our house and this helps keep it from getting boring!
One of the Gang, Nurturing the Souls of Children with Food Allergies, by Gina Clowes. This is a children’s book with real photography of children with food allergies. It talks about how sometimes children feel left out or different because of their food allergies and the feelings they have. It is a really great book and we like it a lot!
Alexander the Elephant series of books. Alexander is an elephant with a food allergy to peanuts! Some of his friends have food allergies as well. We own a number of these books. My three (almost 4) year old son really enjoys them. I love the illustrations. Each of the books teaches a lesson about food allergy management and, although sometimes it feels a little over-the-top for a children’s book, it is good for children to hear positive examples of how to manage various situations.
The Bugabees — Friends with Food Allergies, by Amy Recob. This book was just released in 2009 and it is wonderful for the younger crowd (ages 2+). The cute cast of happy bugs each have a food allergy (they cover all 8 of the most common food allergies). The story is simple and educational, but the illustrations are so beautiful, I can’t get enough of this book. Fun interactive section in the back teaches children about safe food v. unsafe foods.
Check out part three
Next head over to final post in this series, All about food allergies, part three to see how we manage our daily lives with food allergies. I outline our practices around grocery shopping, storing food, our emergency kit, and emergency identification.
You can find more of my food allergy posts, tips & recipes on my Food Allergy page. I’d also love to connect with you on my Marketing Mama facebook page and twitter. This post, and all posts on this blog, are written from my experiences as a parent of a child with food allergies. I am not a medical expert and encourage you to consult with a doctor on your personal medical situation.
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