Managing Food Allergies: Follow the FAST Formula
Follow the FAST Formula
- F – Facts About Food Allergies
- A – Avoid the Allergen
- S – Signs and Symptoms
- T – Treat Immediately
FACTS About Food Allergies
Food allergy reactions can be fatal within minutes!
Food allergies result when the immune system mistakenly identifies proteins in food as harmful to the body. The immune system produces antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE) to the food proteins (known as allergens). These antibodies signal defense cells in the body (called mast cells) to release chemicals into the bloodstream, one of which is histamine. In an allergic response histamine causes hives and swelling resulting from fluid leaking from small blood vessels into surrounding tissue. Histamine also acts on smooth muscles causing a dangerous drop in blood pressure and difficulty breathing.
Even a tiny amount of food allergen can cause a potentially fatal reaction. A mild allergic reaction might be limited to a skin reaction while a severe reaction can involve many body systems. A severe, life-threatening allergic reaction is called anaphylaxis.
- Is a sudden onset of illness (within minutes to a few hours after exposure).
- Is unpredictable and potentially life-threatening.
- Requires immediate emergency medical treatment.
90% of food allergies are triggered by proteins found in eight foods:
- Tree nuts, such as walnuts and pecans
- Shellfish, such as shrimp, lobster and crab
- Cow's milk
Not all adverse reactions to food are allergic reactions. Some are considered a food intolerance or sensitivity. Learn more about the difference.
AVOID the Allergen
Avoiding the allergen is the only way to prevent a reaction.
Scientists have not yet discovered a cure for food allergies. Strict avoidance of the allergen is the only way to prevent an allergic reaction.
- Consider removing any products containing the allergen from the home.
- Don't serve prepared foods that have inadequate food labeling. Some food labels use names for food allergens that may be hard to recognize, such as labeling milk protein as "casein."
- Inform everyone who handles food your child will eat about the allergy.
- Prepare food at home to assure it is safe, including lunches, snacks and party treats for school.
- Talk to the daycare provider, school nurse, teacher and principal before your child attends a program. Work together to create a food allergy emergency action plan.
SIGNS and Symptoms
Signs and symptoms vary and can change quickly.
The most common signs and symptoms of a true food allergy include:
- Itching and tingling of lips, tongue and mouth
- Complaint of a metallic taste
- Itching, swelling and/or hives of face or extremities
- Wheezing and/or coughing
- Complaints of difficulty breathing or chest tightness
- Change in voice quality, difficulty talking, excessive drooling
- Abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting
- Dizziness and/ or lightheadedness
- Looking pale or flushed, changes in pulse rhythm and quality
- Feeling of doom or changes in level of responsiveness
- Loss of consciousness
Treat immediately with epinephrine and call 911. Do not hesitate!
In the event of accidental exposure, an immediate response with epinephrine and a call for emergency care is the only way to prevent a severe food allergy reaction from becoming fatal.
- Is also known as adrenaline
- Is injected into the thigh muscle through clothing
- Reverses the dangerous symptoms of a severe allergic reaction by:
- Constricting blood vessels
- Relaxing the muscles lining the airways
- Increasing the heart rate
Prompt treatment with an epinephrine injection is critical in treating an anaphylactic reaction.
Call 911 – An emergency response vehicle staffed with a paramedic must be called to transport the food allergic person to the emergency room. The injection of epinephrine may reverse the symptoms of the initial reaction, but a subsequent and more severe reaction may occur, requiring further treatment.