What is Food Allergy?
Allergy is over reaction of immune system to ingredients getting to the body by eating, insects biting, touch, breath etc.
Food allergy is defined as immune deficiency syndrome of the body, which identifies "normal" food as toxin and reacts accordingly. The reaction can be fatal to person suffering of allergy.
The allergy is expressed by antibodies (IGE) generation against the allergic ingredient and causing a chain of reactions such as:
Shortness of breath
Blood pressure dropping and fainting
Heart bits disturbance
The most severe and life threatening allergic reaction is called anaphylactic reaction (The mortality cases among children and youth were mostly because of breathing difficulty till breathing stop).
This reaction may appear immediately after exposure to allergen (or 10 to 20 minutes) and is the immediate reaction. Sometimes there will be another reaction after a few hours.
Allergic person must carry EPIPEN injection, a retractable automatic injection for immediate injection in case of allergic reaction caused by exposure to allergic food. The person or people surrounding must know when and how to use the injection. It is a life saving action that must be done immediately since the allergy reaction can lapse to choking and death in few minutes. A person suffering of allergy reaction should be taken to emergency room immediately after he got the injection.
The more times allergic person is exposed to allergic food, the allergy reactions are more severe, faster and dangerous. Therefore, allergic person must avoid exposure to food he is allergic to!
The only "vaccine" to food allergies is complete avoidance of exposure to food causing allergy.
Food Allergy – Few Numbers
Today, rough estimate about 5% of population in Israel suffer of food allergies in different levels (from rash to anaphylactic reaction)
A more detailed evaluation is of 8% of children population and 2% of adult population.
In Israel the several allergens known to cause most of the reactions are:
milk, eggs, soya, peanuts, wheat family, nuts family, sesame, fish, celery, mustard, lupine.
In actual fact in Israel no comprehensive study was done on percentage of allergic people in population and the numbers the doctor have are based of a worldwide evaluation, nevertheless it can be certainly stated that food allergies are a problem of the modern world and the percentage of allergic people is persistently increasing.
Death cases – in Israel there are two deaths a year due to food allergy. In USA the numbers get to 200 a year.
The difficulties in lives of people allergic to food
Food allergies are discovered usually by infancy and the bigger the baby gets the problems get bigger. At the beginning, avoidance is simple, the baby is taken care at home or with nanny and not exposed to allergen and the consuming society, real problems start once child gets to ages when he needs the company of friends of his own age .
Day care centers and nursery schools tend to refuse to have allergic children because a day care should prepare for getting an allergic child – there is a need to educate the other parents not to bring an allergen to the day care and if a product is entered it should be carefully checked before it is given to the allergic child. Furthermore, milk products or sesame are almost impossible not to enter the day care and than much more effort is needed of the day care to keep the allergic child from getting allergen.
Additionally, care givers are not ready to hold the injection and there were cases when parents are asked to sign papers where they clear the care giver of responsibility upfront – what leads the parents to avoid the children the company they need so much, and keep them another year at home. The municipal kindergartens have much problems as well, as long as the child didn't get 5 (the obligatory age to go to kindergarten) , municipality may make effort to avoid of the parent to register his child ( or make the parent get an outside aid to supervise the allergic child )
In compulsory nursery school although situation is a bit better still there are problems, the first of course is holding an injection. Although there is a general manager document explaining the way an educational institute should conduct when having an allergic child, few care givers act accordingly, and each allergic child is learning the difficulties on his own flash.
The difficulties continue at kindergarten and are expressed not only in lack of understanding and will from the care givers, at every celebration at the kindergarten, in good scenario it is possible to try and avoid getting the allergen into the kindergarten, but it is difficult to track each product entering the kindergarten and caution is required from children exchanging food, from birthday parties, holiday parties etc.
Additional difficulties allergic children have – are social difficulties, since going to a birthday party of a friend is a difficult activity – most people are not aware of what is allowed and what is forbidden of the allergic child, and it is difficult for the allergic child to avoid all the goodness around him. (Although we as parents do the most to compensate him for what he is missing). And of course, allergic child requires constant supervision at parties. At kindergarten age it is only natural for the mother to stay and supervise, at older ages it starts to be a problem.
Allergic children encounter similar difficulties all through life, at school, eating outside, barbeque, travel, hotels, army service, etc.
The Food Companies
In last years the big food companies in the market started a blessed process of marking the allergens in food, but the process which started as an important and blessed process, turned problematic since the food companies started marking for preparation of excuses ( due to prosecutions of allergic people and people with celiac who got hurt).
In a conversation I had with chief food technologist of a big food company – the process of chocolate manufacturing was explained and the reason why my son has no possibility to eat any chocolate product manufactured by the company. Chocolate doesn't "like" water and therefore machines that produce chocolate are not cleaned or cleaned in a dry cleaning process, and therefore allergens that were produced in previous operation can remain in the machine and stick to the next product.
The food technologist explained that in practice only a certain percentage of production might actually contain allergens, but financially wise it is not worthwhile to separate production lines with and without allergens.
Current situation today is that for my son, who is allergic to nuts and peanuts, it is forbidden to eat any chocolate manufactured in Israel, there is no one product of elite he can eat, he can't eat popsicles manufactured by the big companies, the morning cereals by Telma who is the biggest cereals manufacturer in Israel, are also forbidden for him.
The difficulties mentioned here and additional difficulties too long to detail here caused us to start process of forming a non –profit organization. Our main goals are:
- Work with government offices to improve the situation of allergic people in Israel.
- Education for health in the food industry.
- Increase the public awareness to the allergy subject and to its implications.
- Social circle for allergic people that will help them and get helped from them
In actual fact we believe that legislation in the matter will lead to change of approach in general public and in the financial approach of the food companies ( if allergens will be forbidden of kindergarten parties the food companies that won't produce allergens-free products will lose a market share).
Additional information is available in the web site of the organization.
Thanks for the listening and attention