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Holiday Feast: Uncertainty For People With Food Allergies

November 25, 2009

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - 'Tis the season for families and friends to celebrate the holidays with food - from dinners to desserts, to the many nibbles in-between. For people with food allergies, however, this time of year brings an inevitable helping of uncertainty. Dr. Jay Portnoy, an allergist at Children's Mercy Hospital, says it takes only a small amount of an allergic food to trigger a dangerous reaction. This makes it a real challenge to monitor one's diet, particularly when eating away from home.

Portnoy says six to eight percent of children have allergic reactions to some foods; just under four percent of adults also have reactions, but adult reactions are usually more severe. He says that's why people with food allergies need to be vigilant and communicate with the cook about the ingredients.

"Unfortunately, during the holiday season, things you're allergic to are likely to be baked into foods without your knowledge. And so it's the 'hidden' foods that you're unaware of are that the biggest risks, particularly the nuts and peanuts."

Eggs are another common ingredient of holidays treats that can trigger an allergic reaction, he says. Common allergy symptoms are sneezing, coughing, itching in the throat and mouth, hives and difficulty breathing. Portnoy says the drug epinephrine is the best defense when a food allergy hits. However, he warns that it's not enough to have an epi-pen - it is critical to know how to use it.

"People need to be instructed. Demand that you be trained. You get a 'trainer' - a placebo or a blank epi-pen - and practice using it so that it becomes second nature."

He suggests that people with food allergies carry at least two epi-pens with them at all times, as they last only about 20 minutes and a second injection might be needed.

More information can be found online at

Heather Claybrook, Public News Service - MO