Allergy awareness key to preventing incidents
As Health Canada launches a new awareness campaign regarding allergic reactions, residents here are being reminded that nut, shellfish and other food allergies should always be taken seriously – so that unintended exposures don’t lead to potentially life-threatening situations.
Sundre physician Dr. Hal Irvine says people without allergies should understand that when someone says he or she has a food allergy it’s a serious matter.
“People who don’t have allergies don’t always understand how serious they can be,” said Dr. Irvine. “Some food allergies, and particularly the two most serious ones for nuts and shellfish, can certainly be life-threatening.
“I have patients with severe nut allergies, for example, who often have trouble in restaurants. When they ask to be sure there is no nuts being used in the kitchen, sometimes the server doesn’t realize how serious the problem might be.”
He applauded Health Canada’s efforts to raise awareness of allergy dangers.
“I do think there is getting to be more awareness generally. You often see restaurants posting signs now. I think places are becoming more aware of the importance of nut allergies. Trying to raise awareness is a good thing,” he said.
Last week Health Canada launched a new awareness campaign aimed at preventing potentially life-threatening allergic reactions. The campaign includes TV advertisements and information bulletins.
“For those individuals with food allergies, severe allergic reactions can occur quickly and without warning, and some foods can be life-threatening to people of all ages, particularly children,” said Health Canada.
About 1.8 million Canadians may have food allergies, and there is some indication that those numbers are increasing, particularly among children, officials said.
Peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds, soy, seafood, wheat, eggs, milk, mustard and sulphites are the food allergens most commonly associated with severe allergic reactions in Canada.
“When someone ingests even a tiny amount of an allergen, the symptoms of a reaction may develop quickly and become very serious. The most dangerous symptoms include breathing difficulties or a drop in blood pressure with shock, which may result in loss of consciousness, anaphylaxis and even death.”
Since there are no known cures for food allergies, avoidance of the allergen is the only way to prevent allergic reactions.
Allergies do not run in families, so testing is typically done only after an allergy first becomes apparent, Dr. Irvine noted.
“If a person does have a bad allergic reaction then we can do testing to find out what the reaction was to,” he said. “Allergy shots can be helpful, but tests are the first step in developing the allergy shot program.
“I think most people who have had a bad reaction are aware and know what to do. Kids sometimes aren’t as responsible as they should be when it comes to carrying their EpiPens and that sort of thing.”
(EpiPen stands for epinephrine autoinjector, a needle that delivers a measured dose of epinephrine, also known as adrenalin, to counter allergic reactions).
As part of its awareness campaign, Health Canada issued these tips aimed at preventing allergic reactions:
• Read product labels very carefully as manufacturers sometimes change the ingredients used in familiar products.
• Avoid food products that contain the specific allergens and/or derivatives of the specific allergens to which you are allergic.
• Avoid food products that bear a precautionary statement naming an allergen that you are allergic to; for example, precautionary statements like “may contain X” (where “X” is the name of a commonly known allergen).
• Avoid food products that don’t list their ingredients or food products that contain an ingredient that you don’t recognize,
• When eating at a friend’s or in a restaurant, tell your host/server about your food allergy, and ask specific questions about the food being served.
• If an allergist prescribes an epinephrine/adrenalin auto-injector, learn how to use it properly and carry it with you at all times.
• Always wear a MedicAlert identifier so that, in case of an accident, others know about your allergies and reactions.
• Look out for allergens listed by other names; food allergens and their derivatives are sometimes found in food under different names.
For more information on food allergies and what to do to prevent reactions, see Health Canada’s website http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca