More and more people are being diagnosed with food allergies than ever before. Diagnosed cases have increased in both children and adults, with more adult-onset allergies revealing heightened sensitivity in the overall population to certain foods. This means that being lactose intolerant or gluten-sensitive aren’t just passing fads—they’re serious conditions that more and more people are learning how to cope with each and every day.
Food allergies affect 15 million Americans, including 5.9 million children under age 18. In recent years, these numbers have grown in size. More than ever, you are likely to know someone (even yourself) who has experienced some type of food allergy at some point in their life. Don’t worry—you’re not alone!
What this has meant specifically for the food industry is a hyper-focus on food label accuracy and clarity. Have you ever looked at a label and thought to yourself, “what are all of these ingredients?” You are also not alone in this. Food labels are confusing at best and can hide important information—like food allergens—at worst. This could change as awareness changes.
More menus at restaurants sport allergy information, like gluten-free or vegan designations. This is to show those that have (for example) celiac disease or who are lactose-intolerant what their options are. And these options are increasing all the time.
With information becoming clearer and more present on menus or on food labels, companies and restaurants are changing what they serve to cater to a multitude of food allergies, meaning a lot more options for those that need them.
Food allergy awareness week even occurs yearly in May, and it helps to spread the word on what it means to have a food allergy, what resources are available to people that live with them, and how to cope day-to-day with allergies and their sometimes-life-threatening consequences.
The facts about food allergies
Although it isn’t clear why, it is possible to develop allergies to all manner of foods. When your body defends itself against what it considers to be an invader there to wreak havoc, you can ultimately go into anaphylactic shock.
Other reactions to food allergens can be breathing changes, skin rashes, trouble swallowing and vomiting. A person experiencing food allergy symptoms may even feel dizzy or faint. It simply doesn’t matter how much of an allergen you have accidentally consumed, if you are predisposed, your body will likely recognize the food as harmful and react.
There are so many potential causes, and although some theories hold more traction than others, some of the popular concepts include: genetic predisposal and family history, stomach bacteria makeup, and living in certain environments. There are even strange correlations to be made. Surprisingly, for example, the more pets you have the less likely you are to develop food allergies.
Being aware of all common types of food allergies is the first step. The most common types include shellfish, nuts (specifically tree nuts), eggs, milk, and wheat. That does not mean that someone couldn’t develop an allergy to beans, or chocolate, for example. These are just less-common types of allergies.
Understanding the true danger of food allergies
To understand why food allergies are so serious and why awareness is growing, it’s important to put yourself in the shoes of someone living with one.
Imagine you’re at a restaurant. You’ve asked the server to ensure the nuts on your salad have been removed because you have an allergy. Despite the server’s best intentions, however, there has been a miscommunication in the kitchen and your dish has arrived with nuts present. You don’t realize it and you take a bite, ingesting the nuts.
The allergic reaction happens in just a minute or two. Your body feels hot, your neck tightens, your vision blurs and you feel yourself struggling to breathe! It’s terrifying for you and everyone around you. If you have an epi-pen on hand you can stop the reaction in its tracks; if not, you’re headed for the hospital. Either way, it’s a bad way to end dinner.
Putting yourself in this theoretical position can also help you to be cognizant of other people’s food allergies. For example, learn how to administer an epi-pen injection and, if your spouse or friend suffers from an allergy, try to keep one on hand. You can never be certain when a food allergy attack may occur and it’s best to be prepared.
Most importantly, though, understanding food allergies and their dangers will help you understand how to accommodate them. Buying gluten-free hot dog buns at your next cookout or avoiding a recipe with peanuts can be the difference between a nice meal with friends and a trip to the ER.
Spread the word
The good news is that more diagnoses are leading to more options for people affected by food allergies—more restaurant choices, more general cognizance and more emphasis on cures! This starts with you and those you know who are affected by food allergies.