Food Allergy During the Holidays
Most would agree that one of the best things about celebrating any holiday or life event, such as Christmas, birthday and anniversary parties, aside from the socializing, is the food. There is often a large amount of food and drink choices at family or corporate parties and dinners, and unfortunately for those with a food allergy, the choices may also be dangerous if one is not vigilant about food safety.
Today, over 3% of Canadians are allergic to foods that can cause anaphylaxis, such as peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish and other fish. In some cases, exposure or consumption can be fatal. Peanut or tree nut allergies are most common in infants and young children, but adults are not immune and may experience a severe first-time reaction. Although specific allergens in foods vary, the symptoms are often similar to environmental allergies, although a food allergy is more likely to cause digestive disturbance.
Festive dining, especially food-tasting and sharing are expected activities in most families, with some foods aligned with religious holidays or traditions. Some do not understand food allergies and will pressure others to try “Aunt Ellen’s Pumpkin Nut Surprise” or another decadent delicacy while being unaware that some have food sensitivities. Parents may need to carefully review all home-prepared and store-bought foods to learn of any potentially harmful ingredients before kids help themselves at the dessert table.
What Can Be Done?
Although there may be increased anxiety for those with food allergies at holiday celebrations, one can still enjoy school, work and family gatherings by being consistent in your food allergy management program.
Involve all adults and children that may have a food allergy in food preparation so they understand where there may be “hidden” forms of allergens. People with allergy may need to be reminded during the holidays to not be shy about mentioning specific allergies to others, and to maintain extra diligence when snacking at parties.
Plan your food shopping with allergy needs in mind. You may spend less by avoiding “impulse purchases” and prepared foods that may not always accurately list all ingredients. Make your own meals and home baking to bring to a “pot-luck” dinner party or family event as you will have more control over what goes into the food.
Remember the advice of your physician or allergist. If s/he tells you that you are allergic to “traces” of your allergen then that means you have to be extra strict in avoiding even these minute amounts. E.g. If your allergen is peanuts, be sure any packaging or label clearly states if the product is manufactured in a totally peanut-free facility. In North America new labeling legislations requires allergy information to be on the packaging.
If any allergy is suspected see your physician for referral to be tested by an allergist or immunologist to identify all allergens. If an allergy is found, follow your doctor’s recommendations to avoid reactions. Lastly, even while out celebrating, remember to always carry prescribed medications with you to maintain your treatment program.
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(Created with resources from American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.)