Food allergies are prevalent and present life threatening challenges for many children and adults. If an allergic person ingests -- or in some cases inhales fumes or touches the allergen -- it can be life threatening. Essentially, allergens act as a deadly poison for those people.
Thus, on a plane travelling at 30,000 feet, nuts are an enjoyable snack for some, but a deadly risk for others nearby.
Research has not established why these food allergies are becoming more common. Hopefully researchers are doing all they can to help reduce and mitigate the risks.
Monitoring and desensitization can be important mechanisms to reduce the risks, and science, medicine, and technology can be leveraged for this.
Here are some important areas for consideration.
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 and advise on what is safe and proper risk mitigation.
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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Posted 2/21/2019, last updated 12/21/2022