Monday, 14 May 2012

Educate yourself this week on food allergies and anaphylaxis

Food allergies are a very real issue for many Australians, affecting one in 10 children and about two in every 100 adults1 and it is estimated that 10 people will die this year as the result2. At MedicAlert Foundation we recognise the importance of increasing awareness of this serious condition and are, this month, proud to sponsor Food Allergy Awareness Week in our dedication to protecting the health of all Australians.

This week, 14–18 May, is a great time to learn more about living with food allergies with many resources available that will provide more information on coping with and recognising food allergies.

So what exactly is a food allergy? There seems to be conflicting ideas as food allergies are often confused with food intolerances. A food allergy can be described as 'the immune system’s response to a protein in food that the body mistakenly believes is harmful2'. On contact with the protein, the immune system releases large amounts of chemicals which can affect a person’s breathing, gastrointestinal tract, skin and even heart2.

Signs that someone has had an allergic reaction to food include hives, welts or body redness, vomiting, tingling in the mouth, difficulty breathing, swelling of the eyes, lips, face or tongue, wheezing and difficulty talking. Children affected by food allergies may also appear pale and floppy2.

The most extreme form of reaction is called anaphylaxis, a generalised allergic reaction involving more than one body system. Anaphylaxis usually occurs within 20 minutes to two hours of exposure to the trigger and can rapidly become life threatening2.

The most common food allergy triggers for children are eggs, milk, peanuts and tree nuts. Other triggers (for people of all ages) include fish, shellfish, sesame, soy and wheat. Even kiwi fruit, banana, chicken, mustard and celery are known to have caused severe allergic reactions. There are over 170 foods that have been linked to food allergies and for each person affected the response can be different2. Unfortunately there is no cure but prevention and immediate treatment in the case of exposure to those triggers are vital.

Whenever a person experiences an allergic reaction to food, no matter how mild, it is important they receive prompt medical attention. While fatalities are reasonably rare, serious reactions are all too common and you must be properly equipped to manage any type of reaction.

MedicAlert membership is a great tool in assisting people with food allergies to take control. A MedicAlert medical ID is engraved with your personal medical information, including any allergies and illnesses, your membership number and a 24/7 hotline number. In an emergency, those who’ve come to assist can easily access your details, identify the risk and provide the most appropriate medical attention. In the case of anaphylaxis, having an Anaphylaxis Action Plan combined with a MedicAlert medical ID can give you the best possible protection.

With food allergy treatment, timing is vital and this week is the perfect time to educate yourself on this serious condition. So if you suffer from a food allergy, or know someone else who does, speak to us about how we can help, and head to to find out more information and tips on coping.

Do you have some tips for coping with food allergies? We'd love to hear them...

  • 1 Osborne et al. Prevalence of challenge-proven IgE-mediated food allergy using population-based sampling and predetermined challenge criteria in infants. J Allergy Clin Immunolol 2011; 127: 668-676.
  • 2 Anaphylaxis Australia 2012, date accessed: 4 May 2012