Food Allergy Fact and Fiction

Living Healthy, Living Safe

You can help ease the stress of living with food allergies -- from daycares to family vacations -- by being prepared.

Read food labels carefully. A peanut-allergic child, for example, can't eat plain M&Ms safely because they are processed on the same machinery as peanut M&Ms. (Beware of sunflower seeds as well; the manufacturer that produces them may sell peanuts too.)

Ask about flu shots. While the mumps-measles-rubella vaccine is cultured with egg, studies have shown that it is safe for children with egg allergies. However, the flu shot, also cultured in egg, may cause a reaction in rare instances. Discuss with your allergist whether the benefits outweigh the risks.

Make a plan. Determine the steps you need to take in case your child has an allergic reaction. Communicate your plan and any emergency precautions to caregivers, family members, and teachers, as well as your child. For example, mine is simple: First, administer epinephrine, such as EpiPen Jr.; second, call 911; third, call the parents.

The first few minutes of a reaction are critical -- early treatment with epinephrine and/or a liquid antihistamine, such as Benadryl, saves lives. Because not every ambulance in every state carries epinephrine, it's best for both you and your caregiver or child's school to have a supply on hand.

Carry safe food and snacks with you at all times. Give them to daycare providers, babysitters, and friends who may watch your child.

With more research under way, potential for vaccines and other new food-allergy treatments keeps parents like me optimistic for the future. For now, my happy, healthy 10- and 8-year-old sons live normal lives -- few people ever notice the EpiPens they wear in a pack around their waists, the only clues of their life-threatening food allergies.

The Top 8 Hidden Food Dangers

Experts estimate that these foods cause 90 percent of food-allergy reactions.

Federal labeling laws require manufacturers to more clearly identify ingredients associated with the top eight food allergens. The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network provides ingredient-reading cards that list unusual names and food sources for these allergens. Here's a sampling.

Allergen: Egg
Alternate Names: Albumin, lysozyme, globulin, ovumucin, vitellin, Simplesse™ (found in low-fat foods)
Food Sources: Egg substitutes, mayonnaise

Allergen: Milk
Alternate Names: Calcium, whey, lactose, casein
Food Sources: Cream, high-protein powder, sour cream, cottage cheese, cakes, puddings, hot chocolate, cheese, yogurt

Allergen: Fish or shellfish
Alternate Names: Agar, carrageenan
Food Sources: Worcestershire sauce, Caesar salad, dressing, cod liver oil

Allergen: Soy
Alternate Names: Guar gum, vegetable protein, lecithin, carob, starch, emulsifiers, flavorings, stabilizers
Food Sources: Vegetable broth or oil, tofu, soy sauce, tempeh, shortening, edamame, chorizo

Allergen: Wheat
Alternate Names: Gluten, semolina, modified food starch, MSG, vegetable gum
Food Sources: All-purpose flour, bleached flour, bran, American cheese, canned soup

Allergen: Peanuts
Alternate Names: Natural and artificial flavoring (read labels carefully to identify what kinds of artificial flavors might be in a food product)
Food Sources: Ice cream, chocolate, gravy, marzipan, egg rolls, candy, cookies

Allergen: Tree nuts
Alternate Names: Cashews, almonds, pecans, walnuts, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts (also called filberts), pine nuts, pistachios, macadamias, natural and artificial flavoring (read labels carefully to identify what kinds of artificial flavors might be in a food product)
Food Sources: Barbecue sauce, crackers, ice cream, foods with peanuts (may be cross-contaminated with tree nuts)

Elissa Sonnenberg is an editor at Cincinnati Magazine, in Ohio.

Originally published in American Baby magazine, October 2005. Updated May 2010.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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