Teens in the Real World
Food Allergies in the Real World

Protect Yourself


Imagine this: You are hiking on a mountain when a friend offers you some candy. You take a bite and suddenly realize it contains a food to which you are allergic. You begin to have a reaction, your throat starts to tighten, and you don't have medication with you. When you finally reach a place from which a call for help can be made, you still must wait for emergency medical services to arrive. All the while, it is becoming more and more difficult to breathe.

Although a similar incident actually happened to someone, it doesn't have to happen to you. It's critical that you respect your allergy and know what to do to protect yourself. The following key points will help:

Be on guard for unexpected ingredients.

You'd be pretty surprised to know what some chefs have used as hidden ingredients, and where they've used them. Peanut butter has been used to thicken gravy, sauces, and chili; walnuts have been found in ravioli; one sesame-ginger butter recipe called for both soy sauce and peanut butter.

If you have a severe peanut or tree nut allergy, stay away from high-risk food establishments that frequently cook with these ingredients, because the risk of cross contact is high. For example, it is common for Mexican, African, Chinese, and other Asian dishes to contain peanuts, and equipment and utensils are usually shared among foods.

Unexpected ingredients can be found in packaged food, too. Milk and soy have been found in some brands of tuna. Anchovies and/or sardines can be found in Worcestershire sauce. At least one brand of veggie burger lists walnuts on its ingredient statement. This is why it is so important to read the labels of all packaged foods carefully each time you eat them! Although this may seem to be a waste of time, don't take shortcuts. Too many needless reactions, some fatal, have occurred because people didn't read labels carefully.

Visit your allergist.

Even if you haven't had a reaction in years, schedule regular visits with your allergist. This is especially important if you have asthma in addition to food allergy. Ask your allergist to create a customized emergency action plan, if you don't already have one. That way, if you eat something and have a reaction, you'll know exactly what to do. If your allergist has prescribed an EpiPen® or Twinject™ for you, know how and when to use it.

Recognize early symptoms and know what to do.

Know the symptoms of an allergic reaction, and don't ignore them if you begin to experience them. Remember, the sooner you treat a reaction, the better off you'll be.

Carry your prescribed medicine at all times.

Always be prepared to handle an allergic reaction. If you have been prescribed an EpiPen® or Twinject™, take it with you wherever you go. You never know when you'll need it.

Teach others how to help you.

Your friends want to help you, but in order for them to do so, they will need direction from you. Don't wait for an emergency to let them know what they can do, explain it in advance. Talk to your friends and let them know how they can tell if you are having a reaction and what steps they need to take to help you.

Get to an emergency facility at the earliest signs of a reaction.

If you are having symptoms of an allergic reaction, don't try to tough it out or wait to see if it will go away. Follow your doctor's instructions for treating the reaction. If you must use your epinephrine auto-injector, seek medical help afterward, even if you are feeling fine. In some cases of fatal allergic reactions, the person felt fine for a while and was unprepared for the second wave of symptoms that came an hour or two later.

Finally, don't allow yourself to become a statistic. Remember, you weren't born with nine lives; you have only one. Protect it.


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