Lack of understanding about food allergies may lead to insensitive comments or even bullying. School-age kids are often bullied while adults may have to deal with ďitís all in your headĒ comments. A goal for the coming year should be to increase understanding for this growing group of individuals with food allergies, either immediate onset or delayed.
Food allergies are a growing health concern, according to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network. Food allergies affect as many as 15 million people and increased 18 percent between 1997 and 2007.
Nine million adults (four percent of the U.S. population) have food allergies. Twice as many kids as ever have food allergies; up to eight percent, according to the American Council of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology. Peanut allergy among children more than tripled between 1997 and 2008.
At the same time, reports of kids being bullied about their food allergies have increased. More than 25 percent of kids with food allergies say theyíve been taunted in school, where 80 percent of bullying occurs. This bullying may take the form of kids being pelted with food that triggers their allergy.
Food allergies, immediate onset or delayed, are not easy for others to understand. Thatís why itís important to open a dialogue. If your child is being bullied at school, suggest your childís teacher lead a class discussion about food allergies. A school-wide assembly also could be planned.
Adult food allergy sufferers, especially those with delayed onset symptoms, may face more subtle taunting. Well-meaning, but insensitive, individuals may suggest that your symptoms are imagined. Their questions and comments may include: ďAre you sure you canít eat ________? Well, why not? You know sometimes these things are just in your head.Ē
Most people can understand classic food allergies where someone experiences life-threatening symptoms that they can see within seconds of ingesting a food allergen. In contrast, itís hard, if not impossible, for some to comprehend that the nausea, headaches or muscle pain you have hours or days later are tied to something you ate as with delayed-onset food allergies.
Information is the best way to correct misunderstanding. Open up a discussion in which you explain that in some individuals certain foods may cause an IgG (or delayed) response, rather than IgE (immediate) response. Such sensitivities are difficult to diagnose because the resulting symptoms may not appear for hours or days after particular foods are consumed.
Be prepared to repeat this explanation often. Over time, those you interact with may help spread the word that food reactions are real, not imagined, and can be challenging to live with.