Being diagnosed with a chronic medical condition comes with a learning curve. In addition to getting your arms around the important things like how to manage your health and maintain a lifestyle that helps mitigate symptoms as much as possible, you often need to learn a new vocabulary.
These are the terms we hear our physicians use or the other members of the online support group we stumble across, or the school nurse when we set up a time to figure out how to keep our children safe now that they’re dealing with this health challenge. If you’re new to the world of food allergies, this primer should help you catch up on the lingo you need to know.
You may know that anaphylaxis is a serious, life-threatening allergic reaction. What may be news to you is that there’s more to anaphylaxis than the shock symptoms many associate with it. Anaphylactic shock is one example. An anaphylactic response, however, affects more than one part of the body at a time. A reaction that involves hives and profuse vomiting is considered anaphylactic as it involves multiple body systems. You can read more about anaphylaxis here: Anaphylaxis 101.
If you have been diagnosed with food allergies, your allergist likely wrote you a prescription for epinephrine delivered by an auto-injector. (Auto-injector? Don’t worry, we’ll get back to that term in a moment.) So what is it? Epinephrine is the drug form of adrenaline and it’s used to treat the symptoms of anaphylaxis. Your doctor will give you specific instructions on when to administer it and what to do when it has been administered. The important thing to remember is that this is a life-saving drug and it should always be within reach of a person who has been prescribed it. Minutes matter. Failure to administer epinephrine in a timely manner can be the deciding factor of whether a patient survives a life-threatening reaction.
People may refer to auto-injectors by the brand name of the device they have been prescribed such as EpiPen or AuviQ, among others. An auto-injector is pre-loaded with the prescribed dose of epinephrine and designed to quickly and effortlessly deliver that dose to a patient in an emergency. They are single-use, one-dose syringes. Your doctor will help you determine which device is best for you. Your prescription will include a two-pack set of auto-injectors. Keep both with you (or your allergic loved one) at all times. If the first auto-injector fails to deliver the proper dose or if symptoms return before emergency medical care arrives on the scene, you may need to use the second shot. Your allergist will cover this in your allergy action plan.
Allergy Action Plan
Speaking of an allergy action plan, let’s define that for you. You and your doctor will work together to put together a plan of how you treat reactions. It may also include specific instructions about how to avoid exposure to your allergens. Not only will this help you with your day-to-day allergy management, it can also help define how others help you manage your allergies. For children, as an example, an allergy action plan can help craft a plan to help keep an allergic student safe while on campus.
Parents of allergic children should be familiar with this term. It’s a formal, legal document that outlines the agreed-upon, reasonable accommodations the school will make in order to keep your food allergic child safe during the school year. It’s essentially an allergy action plan with legal backing. Food allergic students are eligible for this legal document under the 504 clause of the Americans with Disabilities Act which affords reasonable accommodations to individuals with ‘hidden’ disabilities – or disabilities that are not apparent simply by looking at an individual.
From home kitchens to packaged goods, this is a term you’ll hear allergic families mention from time to time. It’s when food that is one food comes into contact with another food and the proteins transfer in trace (or greater) amounts from one food to the other. You may not see evidence of shrimp and milk on the chicken fingers that just came out of the general fryer where everything from mozzarella sticks to shellfish get nice and crispy, but traces of both may be there. For most of us, that’s not a problem. You probably won’t even taste it. For an allergic person, however, it could be enough to trigger a reaction. This is why allergic individuals look for cross-contamination labeling on products (terms like “May contain…,” “Manufactured in a Facility…,” and “Processed on Shared Lines…”) and ask questions about the cooking process in restaurants. Speak to your allergist about the level of risk cross-contamination presents to you and how to manage the risk.