Food Allergies on a Stick Food Allergies on a Stick
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology

This Topic of the Month article should answer questions about:

Precautions to take when dining at fairs, festivals and family gatherings Tips for avoiding a severe allergic reaction What to do in an emergency When to see an allergist/immunologist

Most people would rather not know what goes into the corndog they consume at the summer carnival.

For the 12 million Americans with food allergies, avoidance of certain foods is a must for safely eating their way through summer events.

State fairs, sporting events, music festivals and even family picnics are ripe with dangers for those with food allergies. Questions about ingredients, food preparations and the threat of cross-contamination can leave even a savvy allergy-avoider uncertain.

The stakes are high. A single bite of the wrong food can induce anaphylaxis, a life-threatening reaction in severely allergic people. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) estimates that up to 150 people die each year from anaphylaxis caused by food allergy.

An allergist/immunologist can identify the specific risks you might face and provide information and support for avoiding the problem foods.

Recognizing the symptoms of food allergies
Reactions to food can manifest as skin irritation, asthma or stomach upset.

The most common allergic skin reaction to food is hives – red, itchy bumps on the skin. Hives often appear in clusters and can appear in multiple areas of the body.

Food allergies can also trigger asthma symptoms such as coughing, wheezing or difficulty breathing due to constricted airways. This is especially common among infants and children.

Gastrointestinal symptoms can include vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramping. An itching sensation in the mouth, rash around the mouth and excessive gas can also be signs a of food allergy reaction.

When a reaction becomes an emergency
For certain people with severe food allergies, even minimal exposure to an allergen can induce a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis.

People who suffer from food allergies should always be prepared for accidental exposure to their allergen. While antihistamines can be effective in treating mild allergy symptoms, those who have had a severe reaction to food, or any allergy trigger, should always carry self-injectable epinephrine.

If an allergic person suspects he is experiencing symptoms of anaphylaxis, administer epinephrine and call 911 immediately. Symptoms include difficulty breathing, light-headedness and swelling in the throat.

Finding safe foods at summer events
Summer outings can become a guessing game for those with food allergies.

Food allergic people should always inquire about food ingredients and preparation to avoid "hidden ingredients" and possible contaminants.

Sometimes allergens show up in unexpected places. In an effort to eliminate trans-fat, for example, many vendors have switched to peanut oil or soybean oil for their fryers. Some people with allergies to peanut or soy can also experience reactions to these oils.

Whenever possible, food allergic people should request allergy-free meals in advance, allowing for restaurant staff, caterers or home cooks to prepare a special plate.

Bringing "safe" food from home is another way to avoid accidental exposure or inconvenience.

Beware other potential allergy triggers
Even for those without food allergies, summer events can force confrontation with other allergy/asthma triggers.

Be on the lookout for stinging insects, which can cause severe allergic reactions in some people. Bees and other flying insects are attracted to uncovered food and beverages. Make sure no uninvited insects have landed on your potato salad or soda can before each bite or drink.

To keep seasonal allergy symptoms at bay, avoid heading outdoors early in the morning when pollen levels are highest. Staying home during high ozone days can also provide respiratory relief for people with allergies and asthma.

AAAAI offers these tips to avoid a serious allergic reaction to food:

Diagnose allergies Visit an allergist/immunologist for a medical diagnosis of food allergies. Avoid the food The best way to prevent food allergy is to avoid the specific foods to which you are allergic. Ask about ingredients To avoid eating a "hidden" food allergen away from home, inquire about the ingredients in a food item and inform wait staff or vendors of the severity of your allergy. Read food labels The United States and many other countries have adopted food labeling rules that ensure common allergens are listed. It is important for food-allergic people to carefully read all food labels. Be prepared for emergencies Anaphylactic reactions caused by food allergies can be life-threatening. Those who have had a severe reaction in the past should carry self-injectable epinephrine at all times.