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Holly Ebel: Really watch what you eat

November 8, 2018

Most of us can sit down for a meal, eat at a restaurant or a friend’s home, have a snack and go about our lives with no adverse effects from what we’ve eaten.

There are others, however, who have to closely watch what they eat. If not, it can turn into a life-or-death situation. These are the folks of all ages who suffer from food allergies.

While some of these allergies can show up in teens, young adults and even older adults, others have them almost right from birth. Regardless of when they appear, it brings worry and stress to parents as well as the one affected.

Fortunately there is a group that was recently formed here that offers advice, support and education for those dealing with food allergies, especially in children.

The group, named Food Allergies Rochester, Mn, is part of the National Food Allergy Research and Education organization. The group meets the second Thursday of the month at 7:30 p.m. in Autumn Ridge Church.

Paige Ma, of Rochester, is a young mother who was looking for support from others dealing with food allergies in youngsters and felt a group such as this would be helpful, to her as well as others. She organized it last spring and put the information on social media.The group now has a membership of about 40.

Ma’s situation is somewhat unique. Her 5-year-old daughter exhibited symptoms right from birth.

“I was breast-feeding her and she would break out in a rash,” Ma said. “Something I was eating was getting to her through my milk, so I changed my diet and the rash disappeared. Then, as a toddler, she had eczema, and would scratch herself so hard. “

A battery of blood and skin tests showed she had allergies to a variety of foods, among them tree nuts, peanuts, soy, dairy and egg.

“I suddenly had to readjust how we ate and how we lived to be sure she would not inadvertently be exposed to something that could potentially make her very sick, if not prove fatal,” Ma said. “This year she started kindergarten and that has presented a whole new set of concerns with what the other youngsters bring for snacks or treats or have in their lunches.” Ma’s son, meanwhile, is allergy-free.

Patti Shin, a friend of Ma’s, was excited to see this support group form. Her 12-year-old son Drew developed an allergy to almonds a few years ago.

“He never really liked nuts, but suddenly when he was exposed to almonds in any form, including almond flavoring, he developed a serious reaction,” Shin said. “He’s old enough to be aware of being careful — for instance, he knows he can never eat a sugar cookie that hasn’t been baked at home.”

Shin has become an active member of the group, adding, “I have learned so much, especially from Paige.”

According to reports from the national group, more than 9 million adults and 5.9 million children — that’s 1 in 13 children — suffer from food allergies. The CDC also reports that food allergies among children have increased 50 percent over the past few years.

Why that’s the case is something researchers are investigating. There doesn’t seem to be a clear answer. (All I know is that when I was growing up there was never anything like this — not that I was aware of, anyway.)

There are more than 170 foods that have been reported to cause reactions. The most common food allergens are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish and crustacean shellfish. Allergists consider sesame to be an emerging concern. In young children, the majority of allergic reactions are to egg, milk and peanuts. There is no cure, though some may outgrow it.

Because of the fear and possibility of a food induced anaphylaxis reaction, both Ma and Shin always — always — carry at least two epinephrine pens in their purses. Prompt injection is crucial, both say.

Occasionally there may be a several-hour stay at the emergency room to monitor that the reaction has been resolved. Food allergies are also very restrictive. Going to a restaurant becomes a challenge and traveling is another issue.

Says Ma, “I always need to inform the flight attendants that there is a serious peanut allergy and then I board and wipe down our seats, just to be sure. We’ve usually had great support.”

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