Six Things I Wish People Knew About Food Allergies
Guest post, Mimi Hymel, Teen Advisory Group member
Hello, my name is Mimi Hymel and I am a part of FARE’s Teen Advisory Group (TAG). I am allergic to tree nuts and recently outgrew my egg allergy. I know many others who have food allergies as well. It has inspired me to help others in my community with food allergies, and improve their quality of life. For example, I started a Be a PAL: Protect A Life™ initiative at my school, passing out 2,000 PAL-entines to raise awareness. I also share resources and information on social media.
I often run into people who don’t understand food allergies and what it's like to live with them. Here are six things I wish people knew:
Food allergies can be life-threatening.
You never know when you are going to have a mild or severe reaction. Just because you’ve always had a mild reaction doesn’t mean a severe reaction can’t occur. Knowing what to do and how to react can be vital, and you should always carry epinephrine and have a plan for what to do in case of an anaphylactic emergency.
Food allergies are very different than a food intolerance.
Often food allergies and food intolerances are lumped together making people think they’re the same thing. This is why some people don’t treat food allergies like a big deal, because they think food allergies just make you sick like a food intolerance. That is NOT the case. Food allergies deal with Immunoglobulin E (IgE), and your immune system, while food intolerances deal with your digestive system. While food intolerances can make you feel pretty bad, they are not life-threatening like food allergies and should not be confused.
One-third of children with food allergies are bullied for their food allergies.
Food allergies are not a joke. 15 million Americans have a food allergy, including 5.9 million children. This translates to roughly 2 children per class. They did not choose to have an allergy and should not be bullied for it. #BeAPal and stand up for those with food allergies. Bullying with an allergen is never ok.
There are no mild allergies, just mild reactions.
I did not know this until this year. My whole life I have been allergic to foods, and when I went to an allergist they gave me an epinephrine auto-injector. I was so confused because I explained I only have mild allergies. My allergist was the first doctor to explain to me that there are no mild allergies, only mild reactions. So just because I’ve only had mild reactions doesn’t mean I can’t have a severe one. And I did a few months later! Thankfully she prepared me!
If you have food allergies, you should have an epinephrine auto-injector for emergencies, as 40 percent of children with food allergies have experienced a severe reaction.
Food allergies can have an impact on quality of life.
As stated earlier, 40 percent of children with a food allergy have suffered a severe or life-threatening reaction. That’s almost half. It’s natural to be a little bit frightened after having a traumatic life-threatening reaction. But this fear can lead to other issues, such as anxiety, or even fear of eating in an effort to avoid another reaction. This can be harmful, and there are numerous ways to get support, like talking to a close friend, parent, allergy support group, or even a therapist. Do not hesitate to contact a therapist if you need it!
Food allergies make social situations and eating out harder.
Often times, friends, family, school, work, and extracurricular activities involve going out to do something fun with everyone. These activities typically involve food, making individuals with food allergies stressed. If you are organizing an event, consider reaching out to the individual with food allergies. If you are the person with food allergies, don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself.
There are many ways to get involved in the food allergy community. You could put up a FARE poster at your school. You could participate in FARE’s Food Allergy Heroes Walk or donate to FARE. You could spread awareness on social media or join a food allergy support group, and the list is endless.
I hope after reading this article you will understand food allergies a little bit better, and consider going out into your community and making a difference for those with food allergies.