How to Live With Food Allergies

Four Parts:Keeping Yourself SafeEating at HomeEating at School and at WorkEating at Restaurants

Living with food allergies can be challenging. Friends, family, and strangers alike might underestimate or misunderstand the potential for an adverse reaction. Fortunately, with a little homework and a positive attitude, you can keep your food allergies in check and live a healthy and comfortable life.

Part 1
Keeping Yourself Safe

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    Talk to a licensed allergist. You may think you have a food intolerance or food allergy, but to know for sure, schedule an appointment with a licensed allergist.[1] The allergist will conduct the right tests to zero in on your problem with food.
    • A food intolerance is not a food allergy; a food allergy occurs when your body’s immune system negatively reacts to a certain food, while a food intolerance is when your body is missing an enzyme necessary to digest a certain food. [2] Though a food intolerance can trigger similar symptoms to that of a food allergy, a food intolerance is generally less serious, causing few problems beyond digestive issues. [3]
    • If you do have a food allergy or allergies, discuss a plan with your allergist. Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), a leading education organization for food allergy sufferers, provides a emergency plan worksheet that you can fill out with your allergist to assess when and how to use medication in response to a reaction. [4]
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    Avoid the foods you’re allergic to. The only way to prevent a food allergy reaction is to avoid the food you’re allergic to. If you accidentally consume a problem food, take your medication at the first sign of reaction.
    • A serious reaction may be anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis can happen within seconds or minutes of eating the problem food. [5] Swelling of lips, tongue, or throat, diarrhea and vomiting, and either difficulty breathing or reduced blood pressure are all symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction. Also look out for paleness, weak pulse, dizziness, and confused state. [6]
    • If your doctor prescribed you epinephrine (commonly an EpiPen or Adrenaclick), you, or a helper, should inject yourself with the medicine. Make sure you keep the medication current, though you should use it in an emergency even if it’s expired.
    • Even if the epinephrine has stopped your symptoms, go to the emergency room.
    • A mild reaction can be evidenced by hives, dry, itchy rashes, redness on the skin or around the eyes, itchiness in the mouth or ear canal, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, nasal congestion, sneezing, dry cough, strange taste in mouth, or contractions of the uterus. [7] Your allergist may prescribe an antihistamine to treat symptoms from a mild reaction. [8]
    • There is some overlap between symptoms of anaphylaxis and a milder reaction. If unsure of the severity of your reaction, the benefits of using epinephrine outweigh the costs. [9]
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    Wear emergency medication identification. Wearing an allergy bracelet will alert emergency personnel of your allergies so you can be treated safely. Talk with your allergist about the information necessary to put on this bracelet. [10]
    • The bracelet should indicate whether an EpiPen should be used.
    • The bracelet should have at one emergency phone number.
    • The bracelet should indicate any emergency procedures to be followed. [11]
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    Carry your medication with you everywhere. [12] You want to be prepared in any scenario, especially if your day's plans are unpredictable.
    • Have with you a supply of emergency epinephrine and antihistamines/inhalers, as provided by your allergist.
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    Consider counseling. Learning how to cope with a food allergy will lead you to some, or many, lifestyle changes, which will inevitably alter interactions between you and family, friends, co-workers, and strangers.
    • While nutritional counseling can assist you in developing strategies for staying healthy, traditional counseling might be valuable if you’re feeling ostracized or confused by the consequence your food allergies have had on yourself and/or loved ones. [13]

Part 2
Eating at Home

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    Assess your living situation. How you adapt to a food allergy diagnosis will depend on your status as single, coupled, or member of a group sharing a home. If you live alone, it’s easy to institute a complete ban on problem foods; if you live with others, you may consider allowing problem foods under certain conditions. [14]
    • Consider the likelihood that the allergic person will come into contact with problem foods if the problem foods are in the house. (Is the allergic person a child? How old is the child? How capable is the child of taking responsibility for avoiding contact with problem foods?)
    • Consider the costs and benefits for each person in the household of keeping the problem foods in the house versus banning them.
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    Separate problem foods from non-problem foods. Split the respective foods by shelf and container. [15]
    • Clearly label the problem foods.
    • To avoid cross-contamination, get into the habit of cleaning all the surfaces and the appliances on which the foods come into contact both before and after preparation and consumption.
    • Try to limit eating to certain places to decrease the chance of cross-contamination.
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    Learn how to accurately read food labels. Whether you or someone with whom you’re living is looking at a food item in your kitchen cabinet or one in the grocery store aisle, you will want to know what to search for in studying the label.
    • All FDA-regulated manufactured food products are required by US law to list a “major food allergen” on the product label.
    • Major food allergens include milk, wheat, egg, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, crustacean shellfish, and soy.
    • Unexpected sources of allergens are not required to appear on the label.[16]
    • You should conduct personal research if you’re allergic to a less common allergen. Search for information on foods closely related to your problem foods. Call manufacturers or contact them through their websites to get more insight into whether your problem foods appear in a product.

Part 3
Eating at School and at Work

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    Prepare yourself for the world beyond your home. When you leave home, you necessarily lose some control over your exposure to food. Know your needs for the environment you are entering, and be sure to inform those who will be in contact with you on how best to create a healthy environment.
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    Make sure administrators and teachers at school are informed of your allergy. Provide the school with your Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Emergency Care Plan as well as a supply of emergency epinephrine and antihistamines/inhalers, as provided by your allergist. [17]
    • Talk to the food service director to get a sense of school-wide habits that will prevent problem foods from causing a problem, whether in the cafeteria or on the school bus. [18]
    • Research suggests half of children are bullied for a food allergy at school. [19] Talk to administrators and teachers on ways to counter bullying and make the school cafeteria inclusive.
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    Take the lead in planning work lunches by suggesting restaurants that cater to allergy sufferers.
    • Don’t be afraid to start conversations about your allergy with co-workers, though you’ll want to opt for a light touch when educating them.
    • Suggest team-building activities that don’t involve foods.
    • Be sure to bring your own plate at work functions and try to eat before your colleagues to avoid cross-contamination. [20]

Part 4
Eating at Restaurants

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    Research restaurants ahead of time. Though you may want a spontaneous night out in the town, a little legwork will go a long way in finding a restaurant suitable to your needs.
    • Talk to your allergist about allergy-friendly restaurants.
    • Review menus to look out for problem foods.
    • Try to avoid restaurants predisposed to cross-contamination. (i.e. buffets, bakeries, Asian restaurants, seafood restaurants.) [21]
    • Call the restaurant at a less than busy time (2-4pm) so you can ask them questions about their comfort level and safety precautions serving people who have your food allergy.
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    Be over-prepared at the restaurant. Nobody is as concerned about your food allergy as you are; use your concern to your advantage by coming to the restaurant informed and ready to enjoy a healthful meal.
    • Have a food allergy health card ready to distribute to waitstaff and the manager to inform them of your needs. [22]
    • Don’t hesitate to ask questions about your order. The old truism applies: better safe than sorry.
    • Ask to speak to the manager with whom you spoke to by phone earlier, and thank them for their consideration in delivering you a safe, delicious meal.
    • Show your appreciation to a restaurant that satisfies your requests by thanking the servers, manager, and staff.
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    Keep it simple. If you’re unsure about the menu, consider something like a baked potato or broiled chicken. [23]
    • Avoid fried foods and desserts.
    • While traveling, search for hotels with microwaves and/or kitchens that will allow you to make your own food. [24]


  • Find a competent allergist who specializes in food allergies and refer back to them when you need clarification on the topic.
  • Don’t worry about being a bother when informing and educating your friends, family, and co-workers about your food allergy. You want to share your life and experiences with these people, and learning how to handle a food allergy is part of that life and those experiences.
  • Be willing to adapt your lifestyle to your needs.
  • Traveling can be difficult, but you can adequately prepare yourself: try to fly with airlines friendly to allergy sufferers. Pack your own snacks. Have a chef allergy card prepared in a different language if that’s what you need.[25]
  • Do your best to stay upbeat. Though living with food allergies requires constant vigilance, you can still enjoy yourself, your food, and your company.
  • Try to connect online or in person with other people living with allergies. Share stories. Learn. Laugh. Know that you’re not alone. [26]

Sources and Citations

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Article Info

Categories: Allergies and Immunization