Thanks to Sweet Alexis for your generous giveaway! For those who didn't win, please check back often for future giveaways and don't forget to visit the Sweet Alexis website to order. It's great to find a place that allows you to treat your family to some allergy-friendly goodies that you didn't have to bake yourself. I wish I could send cookies to you all -- it's wonderful to have such great readers who support each other and share their knowledge.
Yesterday I asked my Nut-Free Mom Facebook readers to open up about the food allergy "myths" they've been confronted with when trying to explain food allergies to others, including how to keep allergic people safe.
Based on the large number of responses, it seems that food allergies remain a largely misunderstood condition, despite the increased level of awareness and media attention.
Food allergy myths are more than just occasionally annoying--they can be dangerous because if misinformation persists, it can endanger a life.
Myth 1: Food allergy and food intolerance are the same thing. Food allergy differs from an intolerance (such as celiac disease, i.e. gluten intolerance or lactose intolerance) in that a food allergy reaction creates an immediate and sometimes full body response that can be life-threatening, also known as anaphylaxis. An intolerance can cause serious health problems, but won't result in the emergency situation that anaphylaxis creates.
Myth 2: People with food allergies are simply "picky eaters" who don't enjoy eating. Food allergies are not a food preference, they are a medical condition that can cause death. People who avoid certain foods due to food allergies are doing so for medical reasons. Food-allergic folks enjoy food just as much as anyone; the caution they exercise about some foods is due to necessity, not choice.
Myth 3: Giving small amounts of a food allergen to an allergic person at home without a doctor's supervision will cure them of the allergy. NO! Please don't try this at home. Much media attention has been given to clinical research studies and trials that are trying to build up subjects' immunity to certain food allergies such as peanut allergy by introducing small amounts of food allergen. Participants in these studies must meet very specific criteria that is evaluated by an allergist. Plus, some people have reacted severely during these studies even though others have shown improvement. Currently, there is no widespread, FDA approved treatment for food allergies although research has been growing rapidly and experts hope to have a cure in the not-too-distant future.
Myth 4: People with food allergies are weak, sickly and unable to participate in sports or other strenuous activities. Tell that to the following professional athletes with food allergies:
- Superbowl champ Jerome Bettis (shellfish allergy)
- Tom Poti, NHL Hockey player (multiple food allergies)
- Olympic Skier Steve Omischl (severe peanut allergy)
- Tennis star Serena Williams (said to have a peanut allergy)
Food allergies don't hamper physical strength. Because asthma and food allergies sometimes go hand in hand, athletes with these conditions will have to follow treatment and other protocols, but their abilities are not altered.
Myth 5: Children with food allergies will always outgrow them. Recent research has shown that young adults are outgrowing food allergies less than was previously believed. While not impossible to outgrow them (speak to your doctor), the following allergies tend to be lifelong, especially if they are severe: peanut, tree nut and shellfish allergies. Emphasize to caregivers that whether your child outgrows the allergy or not, they have it right now and current precautions need to be maintained. The future may bring something different but we have to live in the present.
If you encounter these myths or others, take it as an opportunity to educate your circle of family and friends about food allergies. Many people are trying to be helpful or comforting (not always, I know, but if you don't know, give them the benefit of the doubt), so keep that in mind. If you keep a cool head and state your facts, you are helping to raise food allergy awareness and education, one person at a time.