When my eight-month-old son started fussing as I ate peanut butter crackers, I didn’t think twice about holding him in my lap while I finished my snack, but within an hour, he was in the emergency room with symptoms of anaphylaxis. Fast-forward a few years, we ended up in the ER again even though the owner of a bakery promised the muffin my son ate was free of his food allergens. It wasn’t until food allergies personally touched my loved ones that I grasped the impact they can have on a person’s life and the lives of those around them. Food Allergy Awareness Week is May 13-19, and this year’s theme is “Shine a Light on Food Allergies.” Here are eight ways to illuminate your awareness of and sensitivity to food allergies.

(1) Ask guests about food allergies prior to planning food-centered events.

I remember purchasing birthday cupcakes with peanut butter icing only to find out that a guest had a peanut allergy. Now, as a parent, it hurts to hear my little boy say, “Today was Susie’s birthday, and I didn’t eat any cake.” It’s always a kind gesture to ask about food allergies when hosting a dinner party or to notify parents of upcoming birthday treats at school.

(2) Recognize the symptoms of an allergic reaction.

Mild-to-moderate symptoms may include one or more of the following: hives, redness of skin, itching in mouth or ears, GI distress, sneezing or nasal congestion, or coughing. Severe symptoms include difficulty swallowing, wheezing, shortness of breath, loss of consciousness, weakness, confusion, and/or swelling of lips, tongue, or throat that blocks breathing.

(3) Understand that food allergies are serious & potentially life-threatening.

After hearing about my family members’ food allergies, people often ask, “Are they serious?” Allergic reactions can be different with each exposure to an allergen; therefore, there are no mild or severe food allergies—only mild to severe reactions. All food allergies are serious and must be taken seriously.

(4) Be supportive, understanding, and a good listener.

Food allergies are not a choice! Since eating is woven into so many aspects of life, food allergies can have a significant emotional impact, including added stress and anxiety for the individual and his or her loved ones. Be sensitive to challenges at holidays or the disappointment of having to avoid certain foods or restaurants. This is a daily occurrence for individuals with allergies.

(5) Wash your hands before and after handling or consuming food to prevent the transfer of food allergens.

While you may not be directly affected, for someone with food allergies, even a trace of their allergen could be deadly. I’ll never forget eating sushi, brushing my teeth, and kissing my husband goodnight, which caused him to be up all night with what we later discovered was an allergic reaction to shellfish.

(6) Find the silver lining to food allergies!

Focus on all the foods a person with food allergies can eat. Despite the limitations of allergies, “side effects” may include more dinners at home with family, increased kitchen creativity, and more focus on non-food aspects of celebrations and social gatherings.

(7) Spring into action!

Make the world safer (and more fun) for people with food allergies by participating in the Teal Pumpkin Project at Halloween, hosting food-free Easter egg hunts, making a donation to food allergy research, or walking in a Food Allergy Heroes Walk.

(8) Utilize food allergy resources.

Check out the Food Allergy Alliance of the Mid-South (FAAMidsouth.org) for additional resources, food allergy support, education, advocacy, and fellowship here in Memphis and surrounding areas.

Top 8 Food Allergens

  • Wheat
  • Peanut
  • Dairy
  • Soy
  • Fish
  • Tree Nuts
  • Egg
  • Shellfish

Food allergies impact…

  • ~15 million Americans
  • ~5.9 million children under age 18
  • 1 in 13 children, or roughly 2 per classroom
  • ~30% of children have multiple food allergies

Blair Mize, MS, RDN, CSSD, LDN is co-owner of Memphis Nutrition Group, a nutrition & lifestyle counseling practice operated by registered & licensed dietitians/nutritionists. Memphis Nutrition Group believes in a non-diet approach that promotes overall health and optimal performance without compromising the enjoyment of food. For more information call Memphis Nutrition Group at 901.343.6146 or visit www.MemphisNutritionGroup.com.