So you think you have a food allergy…
Hives? Difficulty Breathing? Dizziness? All of these symptoms may be a sign of a food allergy. A food allergy is an immune reaction to certain proteins found in food. Individuals with food allergies have immune systems that recognize these proteins or allergens as harmful, and initiate an immune response as it would to a bacteria or a virus. This response includes the release of antibodies and histamines that “attack” the respiratory, GI tract, skin and cardiovascular system. Based on the severity of the response, this reaction can range from mild to fatal.
A common term that is confused with a food allergy is food intolerance where the body cannot absorb or digest certain components of food. Where a food allergy can be lethal if the food is consumed in minute portions, an individual with food intolerance is generally non-reactive to small amounts of the food. It is important, though, to investigate these intolerances further – educate yourself about what you can do to prevent a reaction, as well as what to do in case you do have a reaction.
There is little doubt that the prevalence of all allergies, including potentially life threatening allergic reactions to peanut and other foods, has increased. In parallel, heightened awareness has prompted more people to suspect they may have a food allergy. Today, between 6 and 8 per cent of Canadians have food allergies, says Dr. Ann Clarke, an allergist and leading researcher at the McGill University Health Centre. In human terms, that means up to one in 13 Canadians is food allergic. Health institutes and patient advocacy groups have resources to help improve the diagnosis of food allergy and educate patients. Unfortunately, severe and sometimes fatal reactions to foods continue to occur. Therefore, the need for a person with suspected food allergies to undergo a careful, individualized evaluation by an experienced physician is critical.
Staying safe when eating on campus and at home
Here are some tips to consider if you have a food allergy:
Better safe than sorry!
When out, always ask the chef if you are unsure of what ingredients are in your meal. Be sure to communicate your allergies to the server. When grocery shopping, carefully review the nutritional/ ingredient labels. Sometimes the foods you are allergic to have uncommon names in different forms, so try to be familiar with those names and products.
Cross contamination awareness
When out, be aware that many items cooked on flat top grills are subject to cross contamination, which could put you at risk of a reaction.
At home, communicate with your roommates about your allergy, and ensure you are careful when sharing cooking surfaces and utensils.
Carry your medication
When out, have handy your epinephrine auto-injector or other allergy-related medications, and let your friends know what they can do to help if you do have a reaction.
You always have options
On campus, there are a number of places that will accommodate your needs. For instance, if you are allergic to gluten, you can visit places like Bridges, Centro and La Piazza and order rice noodles instead of wheat noodles. East Meets West Bistro is also known for their ability to make many of their menu options gluten free, please talk to the staff regarding these options.
Through Hospitality Services, the Chef Manager is available to discuss your specific requirements and will endeavor to accommodate students’ varied needs where possible. Please contact Robert Dew by calling (905) 525-9140 ext. 26500 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Through the Student Wellness Centre, you can talk to a physician if you are experiencing adverse reactions to certain foods, and discuss referral for testing. Please contact us at 905-525-9140 ext. 27700 or by visiting MUSC B101.
- Health Canada – Food Allergies
- “Food Allergy” – Patient Education resource manual – Hamilton Health Sciences Foundation & McMaster University Health Sciences, 2010.