Food allergy 'deniers'

A very interesting article in the Canadian magazine Allergic Living on the alarming numbers of adults with potentially fatal food allergies who do not carry Epipens and either ignore or pay little attention to their allergies.

As a magazine writer, Chris Koentges eats, drinks and travels for a living. The 31-year-old Calgary resident has what most people would consider a dream assignment: he samples delicious foods in fabulous resorts and exotic locales. Then he finds the right words to describe to his readers what he eats and what he sees. There’s just one problem in paradise: Koentges is allergic to tree nuts. While he’ll sometimes let restaurants know that he can’t have nuts in meals he orders, mistakes happen about once or twice a year.

“I think, ‘Oh crap’,” he says of recognizing the flavour of nuts. He knows the next hour or two will be filled with intense stomach pain, hives and swelling.

His strategy? To wait it out. Cautious parents of food allergic children will be stunned to learn that Koentges does not own or carry an epinephrine auto-injector. He admits that if a food looks particularly intriguing and tasty, he’ll take a chance and try it. “It’s a pretty stupid approach to it, I am a stupid person,” says Koentges. “I’m kind of cavalier about things.”

In fact, he’s savvy, talented – and in good company. There are large numbers of adults with potentially life-threatening food allergies who do not carry auto-injectors, are not vigilant food label readers and are unlikely to be found wearing MedicAlert jewelry. Almost everyone knows someone – a colleague, a friend – who has been diagnosed with a food allergy but believes that he or she doesn’t need to carry an auto-injector because the allergy is “mild” or “moderate”.

These people lack the understanding of the disease to appreciate that symptoms are not consistent; that a mild reaction today could mean full-on anaphylaxis the next time (complete with problems breathing and a dangerous drop in blood pressure). So they go about their lives taking few precautions for the condition, blithely ignoring or dismissing the fact that they are standing on the precipice of a few mistaken bites or a sting, and unprepared if a big reaction does arise.

To read the full article

First published in 2008

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