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Avoid These Items if You Have Food Allergies

food allergens, non-food allergens

Food allergy affects up to 15 million people in the United States, including 1 in 13 children. But it isn’t only food that parents should be concerned about. There are several non-food considerations when trying to prevent an allergic reaction.

Eight foods account for 90% of all food allergy reactions: Peanut, Tree Nuts, Milk, Egg, Wheat, Soy, Fish and Shellfish. These ingredients – and others - are sometimes used in non-food items that children or adults may come in contact with regularly and could trigger a severe allergic reaction.

Peanut Allergy
Peanut allergy is one of the most common food allergies, and it is also one of the foods that is most likely to cause a severe reaction even in trace amounts. According to FARE, the number of children with peanut allergy in the United States has tripled since 1997 in the United States. The only treatment is to avoid all items that contain peanuts.

Cross-contamination of peanuts onto surfaces such as plates, knives, and countertops is one very important area to monitor when it comes to peanut allergy. For example, my own peanut-allergic daughter had a severe reaction after touching a potato chip bag that had been handled after her sister had held it after eating a peanut butter sandwich.

Peanuts are also sometimes found in unexpected places such as pet foods, pet bedding, livestock feed, kitty litter, compost or mulch, potting soil, bean bag chairs (stuffed with crushed peanut shells), fireplace logs, sunscreens, and some types of dental cleaners. FARE also notes that lupine, a type of plant, is strongly linked to peanut allergy triggers. See BestAllergySites.com for a comprehensive list.

Tree Nut Allergy
Tree nuts and peanuts are not the same, however, an estimated 25-40% of people who have peanut allergy also are allergic to tree nuts. These include walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, pistachios, and Brazil nuts. In addition, a person with an allergy to one type of tree nut has a higher chance of being allergic to other types.

Tree nut oils are sometimes used in lotions, hair care products and soaps. Suntan lotions, shampoo, and bath oils are also places to check ingredient lists closely. Some small animal foods (eg hamster, gerbil) may also contain tree nuts.

Milk Allergy
Approximately 2.5% of children younger than three years of age are allergic to milk. Nearly all infants who develop an allergy to milk do so in their first year of life. Most outgrow the allergy, but not all, and sensitivity to cow’s milk protein varies from person to person.

Recently, researchers publishing in the Annals of Allergy and Immunology warn that casein, a milk protein, is sometimes used in dustless chalk. While most classrooms today use dry erase boards and electronic boards for instruction, some may still have chalkboards and chalk around.

Some medications may also contain milk protein or lactose (milk sugar). The Allergy and Asthma Information Association notes that medications including certain forms of Singular, Claritin, Benadryl, and Prednisone (among others) may contain lactose. Other medications may also contain whey, another milk ingredient.

Other products that may contain milk include bath products (shampoo, conditioner soap, etc) and cosmetics.

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Egg Allergy
Egg allergy is another common food allergy in children, second only to milk allergy. While the whites of the egg is typically what contains the offending allergens, patients must also avoid the yolk due to cross-contamination.

Some vaccines contain egg protein, including some forms of the flu vaccine and the MMR vaccine. In many cases, however, these vaccines can safely be given to patients with egg allergy.

Non food products that sometimes contain egg include shampoo, cosmetics and art supplies such as finger paints.

Wheat Allergy
Wheat allergy is different from a gluten allergy in which the patient is specifically allergic to wheat while those with celiac disease must avoid all forms of gluten, which can also come from other grains such as rye and barley. However, about 20% of children with wheat allergy are also allergic to other grains.

Non food items that may contain wheat include country-style wreaths, which may be decorated with wheat products, and some forms of modeling clay.

Soy Allergy
Approximately 0.4% of children are allergic to soy. Most allergic reactions are typically mild, although severe reactions (anaphylaxis) may occur. Around the home, soy may be found in artificial fire logs, candles, carpet backing, cleaning products, inks and toners, pet food, synthetic fabrics, and crib mattresses. For children, check crayons, modeling dough, puzzles or games with soy-based ink, and stuffed animal fillings.

Fish Allergy
Finned fish, such as salmon, tuna and halibut, can cause severe allergic reactions. More than half of all people who are allergic to one type of fish are also allergic to other fish, so allergists often advise avoidance of all fish. However, finned fish and shellfish do not come from related families, so being allergic to one does not necessarily mean allergy to another.

Allergy to iodine, allergy to radiocontrast material (used in some radiographic procedures), and allergy to fish are not related. If you have an allergy to fish, you do not need to worry about cross reactions with radiocontrast material or iodine.

If you take vitamins, some contain fish as a source of omega-3 fatty acids. Please check the label. Dietary supplements as well should be closely checked for hidden seafood ingredients such as shark cartilage in glucosamine supplements.

Another thing to keep in mind with fish allergy is that fish protein can become airborne in the steam released during cooking, so therefore may be a risk. Stay away from cooking areas if you are fish-allergic.

Shellfish Allergy
There are two types of shellfish: crustacean (shrimp, crabs, and lobster) and mollusks (clams, mussels, oysters, and scallops). Reactions to crustacean shellfish tend to be the most severe. People allergic to one type of shellfish are not always allergic to the other, so check with your doctor for guidance.

FARE advises patients who are allergic to shellfish avoid krill. Krill oil is now a popular dietary supplement.

Reference: Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE)