Whether you’re new to the world of managing food allergies (yours or someone else in your family) or you’ve been on this journey for a while now, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve come across some of the common misconceptions and myths surrounding food allergies. You may have even taken these statements at face value and gone on to share them with other people. The good news is that with a little due diligence you can uncover the facts and clear up the confusion. Here are a few common misconceptions, and the real story counterpart, to get you started.
Misconception: “Peanuts and tree nuts are the most dangerous food allergy.”
Reality: Any food allergy can trigger a life threatening reaction. If you’re allergic to soy, you are at risk of an anaphylactic response if you consume something with soy in it. Allergic to strawberries or corn or wheat? Any of them could trigger a potentially serious reaction and should be treated as such.
Misconception: “Peanuts and tree nuts are the most common food allergens.”
Reality: Actually, 90% of food allergies can be attributed to 9 common allergens: peanut, tree nut, milk, soy, fish, shellfish, wheat, soy, and sesame. Among that list, milk is actually the most common allergen among both young children and adults. And when we say milk allergy, we’re not talking about lactose intolerance. Learn the difference between a milk allergy and lactose intolerance here: Allergy Myth Busting.
We should stress again, people can be allergic to any food. That 90% stat means that 10% of food allergies are attributed to something not on that list. It might be less common to be allergic to mustard, but it doesn’t mean you can’t be.
Misconception: “My child needs a nut-free school to be safe.”
Let’s be clear. First and foremost you should consult with your allergist and partner with your child’s school to create the learning environment that best meets their needs. That said, it’s also worth taking a look at studies like this one released in 2017. Here’s the snapshot of that report: researchers evaluated the rate of epinephrine usage to treat allergic reactions in students at schools in Massachusetts. They compared the rate of usage between schools with peanut-free policies and those without. They found no discernible difference in how often students required treatment for allergic reactions between the two groups.
The take-away here: advocate for accommodations your child needs and focus on those that have a real impact on improving their safety. This may not be the hill to die on. Be informed when you enter accommodations discussions about what changes make a difference, and which ones maybe don’t.
Misconception: “My child didn’t go into shock. It’s just a mild allergy.”
Reality: There’s actually a lot to unpack with this one. First, let’s talk about what constitutes anaphylaxis, because it may not be what you think. Symptoms of anaphylaxis may look mild at the start, like a runny nose, watery eyes, or slight cough. It can also quickly progress to more severe and potentially life-threatening symptoms which may include one or more of the following: a precipitous drop in blood pressure, vomiting, a feeling of doom, a rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, hives, and swelling. (Find more about anaphylaxis, as well as a more complete list of symptoms, here: ACAAI.)
In addition, previous reactions are not predictive of future responses. Sure, this time your child experienced a relatively mild response, but that doesn’t mean the next exposure might not yield a more severe reaction. Regardless of how mild or serious you think the reaction was, see an allergist and ask for guidance on establishing a Food Allergy Emergency Care Plan. Your allergist will outline how you should treat an allergic reaction and will include different instructions based on the type of reaction.
Misconception: “My friend’s son tried…[insert anecdote about a ‘cure’ or experience here.]”
Reality: Anecdotal evidence is not the same as peer-reviewed scientific studies. Nor is it the same as a medical professional’s advice. If you don’t have an allergist, make an appointment to see one. This is going to be a long-term partnership in keeping you or your allergic loved-one safe. Find a doctor you can develop a good relationship with. You want open lines of communications with a physician that keeps up on current research. And do your own due diligence. Keep up with groups like FARE, FAACT, and ACAAI to be on top of the latest news and research on food allergies.