With an eye on the food allergy community as a unique group of consumers since 2008, we're on a quest to find and share ways to continue enjoying the good things in life.

31 May 2017

Talking Asthma with Dr. Bansal

Our thanks goes to Exhale (www.exhalenow.com) for sponsoring this post and making it possible for Food Allergy Buzz to chat with Dr. Priya Bansal of the Allergy and Asthma Center in Bloomingdale, Illinois, about asthma and its connection to food allergies during this Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month. Exhale provides a new and unique service which uses sophisticated technology to capture particles in the air, at even a molecular level, to detect allergens in indoor spaces which can trigger asthma.

Dr. Bansal spoke with me for about 45 minutes on Thursday, May 26, 2017, and what follows is a summary of some of the highlights of our conversation.

What is asthma?
Asthma is a disease that's involved when there is inflammation in the airways and can be triggered by a number of things. It causes inflammation in the large and small air passageways. When you have an asthma attack, you get tightening in the smooth muscle surrounding the tissue, less room for air to go through, and mucus gets stuck inside the airways.

How does one know if they have asthma?
You might see a cough, wheezing, shortness of breath. The key is to know that these symptoms might be a sign of asthma. An allergist can look at the patient's history with the symptoms to assess whether or not the patient does indeed have asthma.

How does one manage asthma?
It depends on what your triggers are. You could have allergic asthma--pollen, pets--respiratory, cold weather, emotions or stress, medications, GERD, perfumes or fragrances. Sometimes there is a medication taken in advance, or a person might need to wear a mask, or sometimes a rescue inhaler is needed. Ideally, you want to prevent those triggers. If that is not possible, then you have options for treatment.

How dangerous is asthma?
It can be very dangerous. People ignore the signs or do more than they should, over-exerting themselves. Allergists can teach patients how to treat the symptoms and how to prevent asthma attacks. "If you recognize a problem, you stop doing what you're doing that's getting you into trouble, and the faster you take your rescue inhaler, the better off you're going to be."

How can a person know whether symptoms should be treated as a food allergy symptom or asthma symptom? 
Sometimes you can't tell at the beginning. It depends on the history. Dr. Bansal emphasized that if you aren't sure about whether or not you need epinephrine, the answer is usually yes! This is why preventative measures and counseling from your allergist are so important. 

Dr. Bansal advises patients to elevate their baseline. "If your baseline is good, you will not get into trouble. But if you're constantly having allergy symptoms..."(as an example) "allergy symptoms are causing severe post-nasal drip, which are causing heartburn, which is causing the asthma. If you fix the first problem, you won't have the other problems." In other words, if you fix the problems and triggers, the better you control your allergies or your triggers, the less of a problem your asthma will be. Asthma management, like food allergy management, is not a one-size-fits all. Asthma management depends on one's triggers, and allergists provide very specialized, tailored treatments. For example, if your asthma is triggered by environmental allergies, your allergist will work with you to figure out what allergens are in your environment, and what are your triggers, to determine what treatment is best. Allergists like Dr. Bansal recommend services such as Exhale--which can detect environmental allergens which are triggers for individuals with asthma—as it can provide valuable information to assist in asthma diagnosis, prevention and treatment. Uncovering allergens is most important for truly elevating the baseline and helping people with allergic asthma caused by allergens.

Dr. Bansal explained the benefits of a service such as Exhale. “A device like Exhale takes the guesswork out.” She recommends her patients put the device in the bedroom because that is where they spend the most time. Dr. Bansal explained with an example “Somebody might tell me ‘I don’t open the bedroom windows, there’s no pollen in there.’ But if you have a dog or cat, and the dog is coming into the room, and you don’t wipe them down and they’ve been outside, and they have pollen on them, and they are bringing pollen in the room, and the pollen level is high (per testing by Exhale), you can address that. You can actually start wiping down the dog, and maybe now you won’t be having the same allergy symptoms or asthma symptoms…so it…defines better what is going on in your bedroom to tell you what the specific problem is. And then once you have that data, combining it with the skin tests, and talking with the allergist…If you are getting allergic symptoms, and the testing and the reading on Exhale are matching, then you can be aggressive to target that particular antigen to get the symptoms to go away.”

If I have an inhaler, will I always need an inhaler?
No! Not necessarily. If you control the allergies and the triggers, and take preventative action, and the breathing improves, you may only need a rescue an inhaler and have mild/intermittent asthma.

How does asthma put those with food allergies at greater risk?
Almost all food allergy action plans have a box that says "Check if your child is asthmatic...the reason that's there is because the asthmatic child is a higher risk during a food allergy reaction because it can shut your airways down." If a patient has asthma and food allergies, and asthma symptoms such as an occasional cough are ignored or overlooked, instead of being treated, they will be in a much worse position if they have a food allergy reaction. So many people are--appropriately so!--concerned about avoiding a major food allergy reaction but yet overlook these mild asthma symptoms which could make a food allergy reaction so much worse.
I truly appreciated the opportunity to speak with Dr. Bansal about the importance of being aware of asthma symptoms and managing asthma. Many individuals with food allergies also have asthma, yet we don't hear much in the food allergy community about the role asthma plays in allergic reactions and the importance of managing asthma. Dr. Bansal emphasized that asthma is actually easy to manage, once you learn what to watch for and how to treat symptoms, and it is so very important to get asthma under control. There are simple things we can do in our daily lives to minimize exposure to environmental allergens which cause asthmatic symptoms. It's critically important for individuals with asthma to take preventative action to limit their exposure to their asthma triggers, especially individuals with food allergies. In fact, Dr. Bansal stated that those with food allergies "should aggressively target it because that will keep the food allergies (more severe reactions) at bay.

For more information about the Exhale device, and how it can help identify the allergens in your home so you can better manage your environmental allergies and asthma, please visit the Exhale website, and follow them on Facebook and Twitter. Food Allergy Buzz readers are entitled to a 10% discount on Exhale services. Just use the code "foodallergybuzz" at checkout on exhalenow.com. Thank you again to Dr. Bansal and the good people at Exhale!

19 May 2017

Food Allergy Consumer Tip Fridays: New Products from A & J Bakery

If you haven't visited A & J Bakery's website recently, you really should take a moment to see what's new. A&J Bakery is an allergy friendly baskery that is dedicated peanut, nut and gluten free and also makes many top-8 free desserts and other foods. Based in Rhode Island, they were also the first bakery in the United States--to my knowledge--to make a top 8 free (and more!) gingerbread house kit for Christmas, which has become quite popular over the last several years.  

I recently had the good fortune of trying two new products from A&J Bakery which I don't think you'll easily find elsewhere--top 8-free "thin mints" and top 8-free wine biscuits. That's right, they are free of all the top 8 allergens as determined by the FDA as well as gluten. I also spotted pepper biscuits and other treats on their Facebook page. A visit to A&J's Facebook page is almost as good as going to the bakery and peering through the glass case at all the goodies. 

Not familiar with wine biscuits? They are an Italian specialty cookie, which is a favorite in many Italian-American families in Rhode Island. I had never tried wine biscuits before! They are sweet wine flavored cookies, have a purplish color from the red wine they contain, and are twisted into a sort of ring-shape. And the allergy friendly thinmints were incredible! A&J's thinmints tasted just the way I remember those tasty Girl Scout cookies. I don't know how A&J does it, but they have found a way to make so many top-8 free treats that not only are delicious, but have the same texture as the "regular", non-allergy friendly versions! It's really quite amazing.  They clearly have mastered the art and science of allergy friendly baking, and are constantly adding to their menu. I can't wait to see what they come up with next. With an allergy friendly bakery like A&J around, my family doesn't miss out on any tasty desserts, even with food allergies!

Be sure to check out A&J's Bakery website and Facebook page

Not an ad. Just sharing #teallove.

12 May 2017

Food Allergy Consumer Tip Fridays: Kiss Freely

While FALCPA has improved allergen labeling for the top 8 allergies in the U.S. on food labels, food allergens are not required to be "called out" or labeled on cosmetics. Yet, some people do react to food allergens in cosmetics and make-up. It is a frequently asked question in food allergy support groups: what brand of make-up is free of most or all of the top 8 allergens? Enter Kiss Freely. Kiss Freely bath and body products are free of the top 8 food allergens as well as gluten, and are made in an environment which is free of the top 8 allergens as well.

Kiss Freely was founded by Jennifer Kurko, mother of a child with multiple food allergies. She began making her own cosmetic products when her daughter developed hives from a kiss on the cheek from mom! One of the most amazing things about Kiss Freely is that they will custom create a product to avoid an allergen on request. Their website states "At Kiss Freely, we know everyone is unique and so are food allergies.  Many of our products allow for substitutions.  If you need to avoid one of our ingredients, simply contact us with your request, and we will do our best to provide you with products made special just for you and your needs."

The Kiss Freely product line includes body butter, lipstick, lip balm, lip gloss, eye shadow, scrub, foundation, etc. In July, Kiss Freely will be adding shampoo, body wash and mascara to their product line!

Please take a look at the KissFreely website, “like” their Facebook page and follow them on Twitter!

Not an ad. Just sharing #teallove. ❤️

08 May 2017

Food Allergy Buzz Thanks

Thank you to Healthline for recognizing Food Allergy Buzz in its 2017 Best Allergy Blogs of the Year list. It is extremely gratifying to receive this acknowledgement from a well regarded health website. It's an honor to be listed alongside a few well-written and thoughtful blogs which I admire a great deal.
By sharing helpful food allergy information together in a respectful and civil manner, food allergy bloggers surely can help make a difference. Just think of how powerful a voice food allergy bloggers could be if they all worked together! 

05 May 2017

Food Allergy Consumer Tip Fridays: DineSafe App

The DineSafe App is a food allergy friendly restaurant app which I have been following for some time. I have been in touch with one of the owners via Twitter (http://twitter.com/DineSafeApp) a number of times and the company seems very committed to truly helping make dining out easier and safer for individuals managing food allergies. I tried the app months ago and there were no local restaurants which had input their allergen information yet, but when I looked again more recently, I now see one has signed up. It's only a matter of time before there are more, and that is exciting!

When a food allergy consumer signs up for DineSafe, they may select which allergens or foods they need to avoid. The list of options is impressive. There is a list of Top 8, "All restaurants are required to track", Top 14 "Optional for restaurants to track" (which includes celery, gluten, lupin, mustard, sesame, and sulphates) and then there is a "Popular" list which includes: added fructose, beef, bell pepper, carrots, chicken, citrus, corn, eggplant, garlic, gelatin, latext, msg, mushroom, onion, peppercorn, pork, potato, seeds, and tomato. 

Restaurants that join Dinesafe provide this ingredient information to DineSafe so that when a consumer views a restaurant's "maintained" listing (as provided by the restaurant) they can see which menu items include and don't include their allergens. It makes scanning a menu so much easier and quicker. There are also restaurants listed on DineSafe which have not provided their allergen info to DineSafe, so the information may not be as reliable but at least provides a starting point for consumers. In addition, consumers can petition restaurants to join DineSafe. 

Another nice feature of DineSafe which will be helpful for those who are not managing food allergies is that consumers on certain diets may opt for the restaurant menus to screen for menu items that fit their particular diet, be it vegetarian, vegan, raw, paleo, organic, no sugar, low sodium, low fat, Kosher, Halal, or GMO free.

Of course, no app can provide information about a restaurant's actual implementation of procedures to prevent cross-contamination. Restaurants that join DineSafe, however, are obviously interested in reaching consumers with food allergies and by providing the detailed allergen information for their menus have demonstrated a certain level of food allergy awareness that may be comforting to consumers managing food allergies. In addition, you can cross reference the detailed restaurant menu info from DineSafe with restaurant reviews on AllergyEats. I must admit, I am curious to try the local dining establishment which has already signed up with DineSafe and am impressed by the detailed information on DineSafe, which I wouldn't have seen otherwise.

Check out DineSafe! You can download it on Apple and Android devices.

29 April 2017

Food Allergy Consumer News: CDC Study Begins to Look at Restaurant Management of Food Allergens

In Google alerts today, there is an article from a law firm specializing in food safety litigation regarding CDC study on restaurants and food allergies. It's an interesting study but the researchers had a very low response rate--only 32.6%! And they only had 6 sites in the entire U.S., two of which were in New York. Few conclusions can be made from such a preliminary study, but at least research into this very important topic is beginning. As the abstract states "The findings in this report are subject to at least four limitations. First, because the interview responses were self-reported, they are subject to social desirability bias, which might have resulted in overreporting of appropriate practices. Second, because interviewed food workers and servers were selected by managers, and not at random, their responses might not represent the experiences or practices of all food workers and servers. Third, because the data were collected from English-speaking staff members only, they might not reflect practices in restaurants where no one speaks English. Finally, the low response rate (32.6%) might have resulted in an overrepresentation of restaurants with better food allergy practices."

With the increasing rates of food allergies, much more research is needed to develop a better understanding of restaurant handling of food allergies. We all can agree that greater food allergy awareness and education is needed.

Food Allergy Buzz encourages you to read some of the abstract or Journal of Food Protection article to draw your own conclusions about the research undertaken so far., without "spin" from commentators. Here is the Journal of Food Protection article regarding the study, entitled "Food Allergy Knowledge and Attitudes of Restaurant Managers and Staff: An EHS-Net Study", an abstract of the study and a link to the law firm's article regarding the study.

28 April 2017

Food Allergy Consumer Tip Fridays: Pareair Food Allergy Awareness Shirts

With Food Allergy Awareness Week coming next month, demand for food allergy awareness accessories and clothing is growing. Pareair Custom Designs is selling food allergy awareness t-shirts for $19.99 (boys) and $18.99 (girls) on Amazon. There is a cool black and teal shirt (above), other colors such as brown, olive, navy and orange are available with teal lettering, and there are also come in other colors for boys and girls with black lettering as well. These are perfect for parents looking for clothing to alert adults not to feed their child at events and locationswhere food is being served,

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