Following the recent news of the tragic death of a teenage girl because she ate a sandwich that did not include comprehensive allergen lists, food allergies are back in the forefront. A new survey from the Food Standards Agency has discovered that more than half of people aged 16-24 only mention they have food allergies when they are eating, rather than before.
Considering that coming into contact with an allergen can cause death, this is a worrying trend that should be tackled, especially as many people in that age group are heading off to university, where they will be around new people who won’t know about their allergies.
The survey found that 56% of respondents with a food allergy only told others about their condition when eating together, 26% told others when they considered them to be good friends and 5% reported not telling anyone at all. The survey also found that young people feel nervous asking for allergy information when dining out, just 14% felt confident in doing so.
In order to tackle the embarrassment that young people feel about their dietary needs, the FSA has launched a new campaign ‘ Easy to ASK’ which is aiming to normalise speaking about allergies and is timed to coincide with Fresher’s Week.
As part of the campaign, we’d like to spread the information, so here is some advice for if you, or one of your friends has a food allergy.
- Tell people.
It isn’t your fault, you’re not being picky. It’s especially important for people heading off to uni for the first time to tell friends and flat mates about their allergies. They will need to know how to recognise the signs and symptoms in case you ever need help. Also, it is important to not be afraid when eating out to mention your allergy to the staff and be confident enough to leave if they can’t accommodate you.
- Keep your medication with you
Allergy sufferers and their friends should be clued up on how to use their medication if the allergy is triggered. It’s especially important that anyone living away from their family for the first time has someone around who can administer this if they are unable to do so. Always keep it with you, don’t go out to eat or prepare food without it. If you need to, set a reminder on your phone with the expiry dates so you always have an in-date prescription.
- Check every ingredient
Ingredient lists can change, so even if you’ve had a certain food before and you’re confident its fine, always double check. If someone is doing your shopping for you, it is important that they know to do this as well and if you are particularly sensitive, make sure they know how to store food to minimise the risk of cross contamination.
If you’ve recently discovered that someone you know has a food allergy, there are a few things you can do to make sure they feel less self-conscious when out and about.
1) Always be supportive of their food decisions.
2) Always encourage the reading of labels before eating or preparing food
3) Make sure you know how to use an allergy kit if it is a serious allergy and they are unable to use it themselves.
4) Make sure an ambulance is called if they have a reaction.
The campaign also takes into consideration that just because you know someone has an allergy, you might not be aware of the signs and symptoms of someone suffering an allergic reaction. The severity of the allergy varies from person to person and are not specific to the type of food they are allergic to.
Someone having a mild-moderate reaction will display at least one of the following:
- Swollen lips, face or eyes
- Itchy/tingling mouth
- Hives, itchy skin, a rash or red skin
- Abdominal pain
- Vomiting / diarrhoea
- Change in behaviour
Severe allergic reaction – which can lead to anaphylactic shock – include:
- Changes in breathing (a persistent cough, difficulty breathing etc)
- Changes in voice (wheezt, noisy breathing)
- Change in circulation (feeling faint, collapsing, dizziness, weak limbs).
For people with severe allergies, they will have an EpiPen on them, a full guide on how to use these is available online via the NHS. It is important to call for medical help if you suspect your friend is having a severe allergic reaction, always mention whether or not an EpiPen has been used to the paramedics.