Staying Safe With A Food Allergy At Summer Parties/ BBQs

Food Allergy

Celebratory events and parties with friends and family are a time of sharing and fun.

Summertime is the best time for BBQs and backyard parties while the weather is good and people have off from school and have longer vacations from work.

Getting together and having fun is what summer is all about.

But for those with food allergies, however, parties can be a stressful proposition, especially when they have to worry about the safety of the food being prepared by a host who may not fully understand the extent and severity of their allergy.

And for teenagers and young adults, the summertime activities of BBQs, summer parties, and time with friends can bring about a unique and terrifying situation that involves navigating and discussing of food allergies and safety when it comes to food and drinks.

“While it’s important that others know about their food allergies, young people often don’t want to “make things into a big deal,” feel different or inconvenience others.

A recent Canadian study showed that December has the highest rate of emergency department visits for anaphylaxis, likely due to the fact that people are eating out more often and the risk increases when food is prepared by others” (Allergic Living).

Here are some tips to make summer parties safer and less stressful for those who have food allergies to worry about:

Talk to the host in advance

Whatever the party might be, try to find and talk to the person organizing the event and find out what’s on the menu and to offer your help.

For catered events, speak with the food-service manager about options for you.

Knowing beforehand what will be served will help you plan what parts of the table to avoid and how concerned you need to be about accidental exposure to your trigger.

While many people will willingly avoid some of the big allergens upon request you cannot expect a host to simply throw out all their menu options for you.

You must also remember that nobody can realistically guarantee their party will be free from the allergens you listed.

Always be alert and mindful.

Someone may have forgotten there was peanut butter used in the brownies or eggs in a casserole.

Offer to bring your own food if you’re not comfortable with the arrangements that have been made for the food or if the host seems unwilling to accommodate your allergies.

Don’t leave home without your injector!

Always double-check before you leave for a party of event that you have your injector with you.

Even if you get to a party and don’t have it with you simply not eating or drinking may not spare you from second-hand exposure that could trigger a reaction.

Check before you eat or drink that you have epinephrine with you. Studies have shown time and time again that the number one factor in anaphylaxis fatalities is a delay in getting epinephrine or not getting it at all.

An innocent oversight that has you changing pants or grabbing a different purse at the last minute could put you at risk if you do not check for your epi-pen before you leave the house!

Watch out for  hidden allergens

Most people know what they are allergic to and know the obvious places they could be found. But they may lurk where you least expect.

Imagine you are at a party with friends and they are serving jello-shots. You have an allergy to dairy so you double check and the host confirms everything used was dairy free.

However, they failed to remember that they used butter to coat the moulds so the shots would release easily.

That small trace amount of dairy could be enough to cause an allergic reaction if you were sensitive enough.

Always read labels and try to stick to drinks right from the bottles or make sure you have access to the labels for everything used in a mix drink.

Also, be wary of baked goods – though they may be free from your allergens, they might have been prepared with shared utensils or trays, increasing the risk of cross-contamination.

Also note even purchased baked goods can be risky since nut free cookies could have been made in the same facility where peanut butter cookies or other nuts.

So always be mindful of second hand contamination and hidden allergens!

Avoid handshakes or kisses

Allergic reactions, such as hives, can happen through the transfer of an allergen on someone’s lips or hands.

These contact allergens occur when a trigger substance makes contact with the skin.

Someone might get hives on her face after someone kissed her on the cheeks after eating shrimp, which she was very allergic too.

If she had eaten the shrimp, she would have had a serious reaction but even having it contact her skin was enough to give her a milder allergic reaction.

Worse reactions have happened through the transfer of an allergen during intimate kissing.

While it may feel awkward, tell your date about your food allergies beforehand.

You might also want to avoid handshakes, specially once the party has been underway for a bit and you have no ideas what people have been touching with their hands.

You can not shake hands and still be friendly.

Give a big smile and offer an elbow bump or a shoulder nudge or something else that won’t put you at risk of exposure but that still won’t make you seem cold or standoffish around people who might not know about your allergy.

Germaphobes do it all the time so you can too!

Have a designated driver

“While a DD is there to ensure that everyone gets home safely, you can also teach this person to help in an allergic reaction.

Teach the DD to recognize the symptoms; explain where you keep your auto-injector and how to use it, and make sure the person knows to call 911 if you have a reaction.

If everyone else is inebriated – including you – the DD may be more alert to an allergic reaction in its early stages.

While it can be frustrating when others “don’t get” your food allergies, try to stay positive” (Allergic Living).

Try to treat it as a learning experience fro you and the DD and help them learn to recognize the signs that you are having an allergic reaction.

Talk to them about your common reactions as well as other common food allergy reactions as new ones can occur at times depending on the type and level of your exposure.

For some individuals, an allergic response to a specific food may be annoying but not severe. For other however, a food allergy can trigger symptoms that can be frightening and even life-threatening.

Most symptoms will present themselves within minutes of eating or coming into contact with the trigger food. The most common food allergy symptoms that you and others need to look out for include:

  • Tingling, numbness, burning, or itching in the mouth
  • Hives, rash, itching, blistering, or eczema of the skin
  • Swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat or other parts of the body
  • Wheezing, severe congestion, chest tightness, sore throat, or trouble breathing
  • Abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhea, nausea, bloating, or vomiting
  • Dizziness, light-headedness, blacking out, vision changes, or fainting
  • Fever or chills setting in quickly, profuse sweating, pale cold skin, or numbness

 In some people, exposure to trigger foods can bring on a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. This is a life-threatening condition and has signs and symptoms, that can:

  • Rapid and severe constriction and tightening of throat, neck, tongue, and lungs
  • The sensation of a lump in your throat that blocks airflow and limits breathing
  • Shock and severe drop in blood pressure that leads to passing out
  • Rapid pulse, skipping heartbeat, palpitations, chest pain
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness or loss of consciousness

Emergency treatment is critical for anaphylaxis because if treatment is not gotten right away, the severe symptoms can cause a coma or even death!

Taking the time to help your DD become familiar and comfortable with what to look for and what to do if something goes go wrong can help you both have a safer and more enjoyable time.

Don’t let it control your life

Food allergies can be a scary thing for anyone but there are many things that can be done to reduce exposer, lessen symptom severity, and treat the condition.

Be sure to talk to your doctor or health care provider right way about any all food allergy symptoms you may experience!

You are not alone in this fight and though it may seem almost impossible at times to live with a food allergy, thousands of people do it and thousands are likely living with you very same allergy- and you can too!

Just educate yourself wok with you care team and family, and do everything you can to stay healthy in every other way and avoid exposure to your food allergy triggers.

Life does not have to end because of a food allergy, you just have to adjust your life some to accommodate it!

So, get out there and have fun this summer and enjoy that BBQ or backyard party or summer trip with friends and live life with your food allergy and not in spite of your food allergy!