Celebrations with family and friends almost always center around food. While these visits are simply good times to many, for families of food allergy sufferers, an invite can mean preparing for a stressful event.
People with food allergies experience reactions when they touch or eat food they are allergic to. Allergic reactions occur within minutes and can be very serious, even life threatening. Common symptoms include itchy hives and swelling, be can progress to include difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing, vomiting, loss of consciousness, and unfortunately, even death. People with food allergies need to avoid exposure to their allergen and there is no safe amount the can eat – even trace amounts can cause symptoms in some people.
Even though food allergies are become more common (affects 1 in every 13 children under the age of 18), many people are unaware or in disbelief of how sick they can become. Interacting with someone who is well intentioned but has a poor understanding of food allergies can create uncomfortable situations. Family gatherings involving food increase not only the risk of exposure, but the chance of someone not understanding the allergies as well.
Here are some tips to safely navigate family celebrations:
1. Always be prepared: Make sure you carry a self-injectable epinephrine with you anywhere you travel.
2. Communicate and plan ahead: Ask the party host or call ahead to the restaurant to find out what the menu will include, whether safe options are available, or offer to bring your own.
3. Prepare your discussion: You will most likely encounter someone who is not familiar with food allergies. Try your best to remain polite. Some may not find it necessary to say anything at all and politely decline a food offering. Whereas other may wish to have a few basic points to discuss such as what happens when you or your child eats something.
4. Remain vigilant: Food can fall on the floor, be wiped on furniture, or fall into the hands of young children, who can do who knows what with it. Make sure your child is always with someone who can recognize an allergic reaction, in case of inadvertent exposure away from the dinner table.
5. Educate caregivers: Many people leave their children under the care of grandparents, aunts, uncles or others who may be unaware of how to monitor food or may be overwhelmed with the task of recognizing or treating a reaction. Discuss ahead of time and share educational material, your child’s food allergy action plan and review the use of an epi-pen with them.
6. Talk to your child: Remind them that it is not safe to accept food from anyone without checking with you first. Asking adults to not offer your child food can be helpful as well.
We hope this list is helpful and we hope your next family gathering is fun-filled and full of laughter. Enjoy.