Food allergy has a deep impact on the quality of life of affected people and their families: the food allergy is different, as we have seen above, from intolerances or from other types of allergies as, even in very small quantities, the ingestion of the food to which one is allergic may be fatal.
Allergy to dogs, cats, and grasses does not usually represent a threat to life. An untreated allergic reaction to food may lead to death. When the food allergy involves multiple foods (e.g., milk and egg, milk-egg-wheat), people need to balance their own daily diets and search for alternative foods with similar nutritional elements. Living with food allergies can be challenging because small traces of the allergenic foods, which are normally not perceived by non-allergic people, can be life threatening .
While there are ways to manage and prevent food allergies, there is no available cure. Rich et al. (2019) claim that immunotherapies focused on allergens are currently under study in the United States. These therapies will aim to desensitise the immune system to specific food allergens.
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The main prevention method for food allergies is avoiding the specific food allergens’ consumption. Rich et al. (2019) propose the following prevention guidelines:
Finally, antigen exposure early in life can shape the immune system’s response to foods (ibid.). Rich et al. explain that “primary exposure through the oral route is believed to predispose to the development of a tolerogenic response […]”.
“Contains” and “May Contain” Have Different Meanings
People with known food allergies are advised to read food labels very carefully. If a “Contains” statement appears on a food label, it must include the food source names of all major food allergens used as ingredients. For example, if “whey,” “egg yolk,” and “natural flavour” containing peanut proteins are listed as ingredients, the “Contains” label must identify the words “milk,” “egg,” and “peanuts.”
Some manufacturers voluntarily include a separate advisory statement in cases when there is a chance that a food allergen could be present. These food labels include a “may contain” or “produced in a facility where X is handled”, as manufacturers may use the same equipment to handle different products. Even after cleaning this equipment, small amounts of an allergen (such as peanuts) that was used to make one product (such as cookies) may become part of another product (such as crackers). In this case, the cracker label might state “may contain peanut”. Manufacturers can change their products’ ingredients at any time, and consumers are advised to check the ingredients list every time they buy the product (even if they have eaten it before and didn’t have an allergic reaction). When in doubt about the label, consumers are advised to not purchase the product in question.
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