If you have a dairy allergy, chances are you’ve heard this question many times: So, you’re lactose intolerant, right? Those with dairy issues commonly encounter confusion over milk intolerance and milk allergy. Over the years, I’ve received questions from relatives who can’t understand why tiny amounts of milk could be deadly for me, from new acquaintances who are curious about my dietary needs and from restaurant waitstaff who are confused by my special-diet requests. Sound familiar?
Researchers have now examined several different forms of immunotherapy, explains Burks, including allergen exposure across the skin (epicutaneous immunotherapy), drops of allergen extracts placed under the tongue (sublingual immunotherapy) and ingestion of the allergen itself (oral immunotherapy). So far, these methods have been used with variable success to treat milk, egg and peanut allergies. Oral immunotherapy—eating escalating amounts of the allergen—seems to hold the most promise for inducing permanent tolerance.
My dining patterns are defined by diligence—check ingredients, take care at restaurants and when in doubt, steer clear of anything potentially dangerous. For those with severe food allergies, avoidance is the cornerstone of safety. In my lifetime, there has simply been no other way.
As a child, I often felt left out during special times of the year. With food-centric occasions littering the calendar, my allergies to milk, eggs and nuts made life challenging, even dangerous, at times. Birthday cupcakes, ice cream and treats were everywhere. From class parties to school trips, from outings with friends to town fairs, I was constantly confronted with foods that were forbidden.
My parents never wanted my food allergies to define me. Looking back, I can see that they taught me how to eat out in restaurants starting when I was a very young boy.
Our columnist discusses the road to allergy awareness.
Let’s face it. Dating involves a certain degree of tension, anxiety and embarrassment. You worry about your outfit, your hair, your conversation skills. You wonder if your date is having a good time, fret over each awkward pause and speculate about a goodnight kiss. Yet those with food allergies have a litany of additional concerns competing for their attention. Will the restaurant be able to handle your needs? Are the ingredients of this dish safe? What about cross contamination—or for that matter, kiss contamination?
The experience is all too familiar. You sit down for a meal and take a bite of a supposedly safe dish. Then something starts to happen. Your chest feels tight, your breathing quickens, your lips and throat seem to tingle. Are these early signs of an allergic reaction? In that moment of anxiety, it can be difficult to know for sure.
Here are some great safety tips to help your child when dining at restaurants. Practice restaurant skills at home. It’s never too early to start. Use real menus to role-play with your child. Teach proper questioning and instruct about safe ingredients and problematic dishes. Make it comfortable and fun.
A growing number of establishments handle food allergies particularly well. Many restaurant chains now post the ingredients of their menu items online and identify those that contain some of the most common allergens. Fast food chains, such as Subway, Dunkin Donuts, Burger King and many others, now make their full menus available on their websites. In a pinch, chains are an option because menu items across a region are generally identical and prepared in the same way—but you still always need to ask and watch for cross-contamination!
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