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Food Allergy: Care Instructions

Your Care Instructions

In a food allergy, the immune system overreacts to certain foods. Normally, the immune system helps keep you healthy by defending against harmful germs. But in a food allergy, the immune system thinks something in certain foods is harmful. So it fights back with an allergic reaction.

The best way to treat a food allergy is to avoid the foods that cause it. And make sure that you know what to do if you accidentally eat something you are allergic to.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Avoid the foods that cause problems.
  • Avoid other foods in the same family as the ones you are allergic to, especially tree nuts and seafood. For example, if you are allergic to walnuts, you might also react to pecans, pistachios, or cashews.
  • Read food labels carefully. Learn the other names for foods that you are allergic to, such as "caseinate" for milk or "albumin" for eggs.
  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse advice line if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
  • Use an over-the-counter antihistamine, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or loratadine (Claritin), to treat mild symptoms. Read and follow all instructions on the label. Mild symptoms include sneezing or an itchy or runny nose; an itchy mouth; a few hives or mild itching; and mild nausea or stomach discomfort.
  • Your doctor may prescribe a shot of epinephrine to carry with you in case you have a severe reaction. Learn how to give yourself the shot, and keep it with you at all times. Make sure it has not expired.
  • Wear medical alert jewellery that lists your allergies.

Tips for eating out

  • When you eat out, tell waiters about your allergy. Ask them about ingredients. If they aren't sure, ask to speak to kitchen staff.
  • Bring safe substitutes from home. For example, if you are allergic to cow's milk, bring soy beverage.
  • Be aware of something called cross-contamination. For example, a food server may scoop out some ice cream with nuts. Make sure the same scoop is not used for your ice cream without nuts.
  • If you travel to another country, learn the words for the foods you are allergic to. Then you will be able to ask about them in restaurants and read food labels. Call airlines, tour operators, and restaurants before you go. Explain your allergy, and ask for safe meals. And discuss your travel plans with your doctor.

When should you call for help?

Give an epinephrine shot if:

  • You think you are having a severe allergic reaction.
  • You have symptoms in more than one body area, such as mild nausea and an itchy mouth.

After giving an epinephrine shot, call 911 even if you feel better.

Call 911 if:

  • You have symptoms of a severe allergic reaction. These may include:
    • Sudden raised, red areas (hives) all over your body.
    • Swelling of the throat, mouth, lips, or tongue.
    • Trouble breathing.
    • Passing out (losing consciousness). Or you may feel very light-headed or suddenly feel weak, confused, or restless.
    • Severe belly pain, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
  • You have been given an epinephrine shot, even if you feel better.

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as:
    • A rash or hives.
    • Itching.
    • Swelling.
    • Mild belly pain or nausea.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.