Food allergies are becoming more prevalent and they present life threatening challenges for many children and adults. If you do not have a family or close friend with life threatening food allergies, you might not realize the effect of ingesting, or even inhaling or touching an allergen, which can result in death through anaphylaxis. Essentially, allergens act as a deadly poison. If you like nuts, you might be annoyed when the airline bans them for the flight, but consider the potential consequences if a passenger suffers a life threatening reaction at 30,000 feet.
Research has not established why these food allergies are becoming more and more common. Hopefully researchers are doing all they can to help reduce and mitigate the risks. At one point I had a "brilliant" idea on this, which I will post a summary of shortly. I think there is a tremendous business opportunity for anyone with the ability to make it happen.
I think some important areas to consider are:
Awareness, notification, and information. This requires educating the person with allergies (and guardians) to communicate clearly and effectively with anyone providing food. An allergy card can help. I will provide a sample here eventually. Simply put, read all labels, communicate any and all allergies to the place preparing your food. Trace amounts are not safe. If it is made in a facility that processes your allergen (e.g. nuts) that is not safe. Cross contamination is not safe.
Carry emergency epinephrine. This can be life saving, if the allergen is accidentally ingested. Carry it and be trained on it.
Consult your allergist regularly. The allergist can perform tests. If the allergist says it is not safe, guess what. It isn't safe.
Evaluate desensitization therapy. I believe this needs to become more common and effective. From a risk management perspective, the risk of accidental ingestion of an allergen, and the potential harms are too great not to look for ways to mitigate that harm. Frankly, many people are unaware of all the ingredients (and ingredients in the ingredients) that they use to prepare foods. People touch and kiss with allergens on their lips and hands. Desensitizing those with allergies is an important way to mitigate and reduce the potential harms of exposure.
For the future we should:
- Develop monitoring capabilities. A monitoring capability could bring help when someone is suffering anaphylaxis from an allergic reaction. More importantly, this can provide valuable medical data for research on treating allergies, reactions, for food challenges, and for desensitization therapy.
- Develop more options for epinephrine delivery systems. There are not enough manufactures of these systems (e.g. Epi-pen, Auvi-Q), not enough competition, and the prices are too high.
- Promote clear labeling of major food allergens.
- Encourage education and awareness.
- Schools should be aware of serious medical issues of students, this includes food allergies, but also asthma, and other medical issues.