When you or someone you care about has food allergies, learning to manage your dietary needs and restrictions is key. As you begin to study, ask, and read up on the ins and outs of allergy management, you’ll undoubtedly come across different ideas and opinions. Some of those are viable options and some of them are myths. Learning the difference between the two can be the difference between avoiding or triggering a severe reaction.
Myth: I’ll just take the nuts out of the salad and it’ll be fine.
If the food you’ll be consuming has been in direct contact with your allergens, there may be trace amounts of your allergens present in the other components of the dish. You can’t scrape the milk-based frosting off, pull the egg off the breakfast sandwich, or eat around the pecans in the muffin without taking the risk that you’ll have a reaction.
Myth: I don’t need to worry about “may contain” type labels.
Let’s be clear, what you should or shouldn’t be avoiding is something you should be discussing with your allergist. That said, it’s important to understand what cross-contamination labeling really means. First, these labels are voluntary. There is no standard for the language used or what puts a product at risk. As far as an allergic person is concerned, there is no difference between a product “made in a facility that also manufactures…” and a “product made on shared lines with…” or one that “may contain…”
Depending on the study, up to 10% of packages with such a label (regardless of wording) will contain trace levels of the listed allergens to trigger a reaction in an allergic person. Let’s put this into context. If we placed a dozen cupcakes in front of you and told you one of them will trigger a potentially life threatening reaction if you eat it (but we don’t know which one) are you going to eat one? Maybe you do. Maybe you don’t. Again, that’s a decision you make in consultation with your allergist. Just make an informed decision.
Myth: I only have a mild allergy.
Maybe you haven’t needed to use that auto-injector before. Maybe the numbers on your allergy tests were relatively low. Don’t assume your test results or your previous reactions indicate the severity of your allergens. There are no mild or severe food allergies. There are just food allergies.
The same quantity of food that gave you an itchy mouth and localized rash before could trigger widespread hives and vomiting at another time in the future. There is no way to predict the severity of future reactions. Any allergic person, regardless of how high (or not) their test results were or what kind of reactions they’ve experienced in the past, is at risk for a life-threatening response at any exposure. Always read labels. Always aim to avoid your allergens. Always carry an autoinjector.
Myth: Reactions will get worse with each exposure.
As noted above, reactions are not predictable. Your next reaction could be more severe. It could also look just like the one you just had or even less severe. The best approach is to prepare for the worst possible response – meaning always carry your autoinjector with you and be prepared to use it. When should you use it? Great question. Discuss your allergy action plan with your allergist and follow the instructions outlined in that plan.
Myth: I’m sure that dish is safe. I don’t see any of my allergens in it.
You can’t eyeball a meal or snack and know it’s safe. Did you know, as an example, that some fried foods are soaked in milk to help the coating stick and crisp up when placed in oil? Did you know that peanut butter is often used to thicken chili? Or that an egg wash is used in baked breads and similar items to achieve the right shade of toasted perfection with the slight sheen? Did you know nuts may be part of a vegan substitute for milk and that gluten-free doesn’t necessarily mean wheat free? Don’t guess. Ask questions. Read labels. Know for sure or don’t eat it.
That’s just the start
Unfortunately, these myths are just some of the common misconceptions about allergies. You can find more in our previous article 6 Allergy Myths You Can’t Afford to Believe.