OTTAWA - It doesn't take much to trigger a reaction in someone with a food allergy — ingesting a tiny piece of peanut or unknowingly eating pasta containing shrimp in a restaurant. In someone with a severe allergy to these items, this can be life-threatening.
It's estimated, based on clinically documented cases, that about 1.8 million Canadians may be affected by food allergies, Health Canada said in a recent release. Some studies show these numbers are increasing, especially among children.
Peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds, soy, seafood, wheat, eggs, milk, mustard and sulphites are the food allergens most commonly associated with severe allergic reactions in Canada.
When someone ingests even a tiny amount of an allergen, a reaction may develop quickly and can become very serious. The most dangerous symptoms include breathing difficulties or a drop in blood pressure with shock, which may result in loss of consciousness, anaphylaxis and even death.
There's no cure for food allergies, the agency said. Avoiding an allergen is the only effective way to prevent allergic reactions.
Hare are some tips from Health Canada on how to protect yourself if you have a food allergy:
— Read product labels carefully as manufacturers sometimes change the ingredients used in familiar products.
— Avoid food products that contain the specific allergens and/or derivatives of the specific allergens to which you are allergic.
— Avoid food products that bear a precautionary statement naming an allergen that you are allergic to; for example, precautionary statements like "may contain X" (where "X" is the name of a commonly known allergen).
— Avoid food products that don't list their ingredients or food products that contain an ingredient you don't recognize.
— When eating at a friend's or in a restaurant, tell your host/server about your food allergy, and ask specific questions about the food being served.
— If an allergist prescribes an epinephrine/adrenaline auto-injector, learn how to use it and carry it all the time.
— Wear a MedicAlert identifier so that, in case of an accident, others know about your allergies and reactions.
— Look out for allergens listed by other names; food allergens and their derivatives are sometimes found in food under different names.