Sometimes, it seems like life is all about having a food allergy. For most people, eating is one of life’s great pleasures. But for food-allergic families, the need for constant vigilance can take the joy out of mealtimes and special occasions. If you’ve just been diagnosed or recently had an anaphylactic reaction, you may be having an especially tough time. Here are a few tips to help you take care of yourself.
- If you suspect you have a food allergy, get an accurate diagnosis from a certified allergist. If you notice changes over time, be sure to let your doctor know. Let your allergist be a partner in helping you stay healthy.
- Educate yourself about food allergies. Visit websites, read books, scrutinize labels.
- Join a support group or start one in your community.
- If you have asthma, make sure it is well-controlled and properly treated. Uncontrolled asthma can increase the severity of an anaphylactic reaction.
- Even if you never have to deal with an emergency, it’s reassuring to know that you’ll be ready if one happens. Carry your emergency medications always and everywhere. Bring extras when far from a hospital. Wear emergency identification jewelry. Always have an emergency plan in place, with clear instructions from your allergist on how to handle a reaction.
- Keep a journal of allergic reactions—for example, after a meal, did you notice red spots or a skin irritation? At a certain time of year, do certain foods cause problems? Memories fade and this is a good way to keep track between physician visits. Journals are a great resource for both you and your doctor, especially if the patient is a child. As kids grow and change, their tolerance of certain foods may change too—and so does their ability to manage their allergy.
- Do not obsess about the "what ifs." Decide that if you’re careful and stay prepared, everything is likely to work out for the best. Food allergies are definitely a challenge, but, fortunately, most people manage very well.
- Concentrate on what you can have, not on what you can’t have!
- Try not to make "eating out" the focus of all family activities. Plan social outings that don’t revolve around food.
- Enlist the support of your spouse and make an effort to give some extra attention to non-allergic siblings, who may feel left out or unnecessarily restricted by the allergy.
- Always have two autoinjector pens with you or your child at all times. One may be expired, malfunction, or may not be sufficient to reduce the symptoms of anaphylaxis until appropriate medical treatment is available.
- Shop carefully and educate yourself about manufacturing processes. Learn to correctly identify ingredients when reading labels. Read labels every time you buy a product, in case the ingredients have changed.
- Learn more about the scientific and technical terms that indicate common allergens for label reading upon buying products with "How to Read a Label" cards.
- Keep a supply of "safe" snacks handy, at home and when traveling.
- Learn to bake at home. Learn how to make substitutions when cooking. To learn how to substitute and cook around your allergens with some allergen-free recipes, click here!
- Plan ahead when social occasions involve food by bringing your own dish or safe snacks—enough to share, if possible.
- Inform friends, teachers and family about the allergy in a clear, concise, calm manner, and give them time to absorb the information. Educate them about safe ways to cook and serve food. Repeat as often as necessary, firmly and cheerfully. Be very specific about what they can do to help you and tell them that you need their support. Be patient while you try to make them understand the seriousness of the condition.
There’s no question that living with a food allergy can be stressful—not only for the person with the allergy, but for the entire family. Don’t hesitate to seek support or counseling if you or someone you love is experiencing feelings of depression, isolation, or fearfulness. Seeking help from a trusted clergyman, psychologist, or friend can get you through the tough times.
Remember, having a food allergy doesn’t mean you have to stay on the sidelines of life. The overwhelming majority of people with food allergies lead healthy, satisfying lives. You can, too.
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