Reasons for Food Allergy Risk-Taking

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My name is Mathew and I am allergic to all nuts and some fish.  For many years I have observed; and I have not been surprised by the fact, that people who do not suffer from severe allergies often misunderstand the risks associated with severe allergies.  Recently I have noticed; and was surprised by the fact, that some allergy sufferers themselves downplay their allergies by taking risks.  I believe that the most prevalent reasons for the risk taking behaviour of allergy sufferers are carelessness, a lack of understanding and embarrassment.

CarelessnessHotel restaurant table

From my experience, allergy sufferers can be careless when making decisions that are impacted by their allergies.  I have observed allergy sufferers who have claimed to have mild to moderate allergies, eating foods knowing that the food contained an allergen that would adversely affect them.  I asked them about their actions and the response was a very simple, “I’ll be fine”, followed by a shrug.  Although they thought their allergy was not severe, they still had a significant allergic reaction to the allergen.  Their actions may be evidence of their carelessness.  When I am with people who suffer from a known severe food allergy, I’ve noticed that they rarely ask the server about the restaurant’s policy in regards to food allergens.  I have questioned them on why they did not inquire and have received responses such as, “its fine, whatever”.  The responses may be confirmation that the individuals are careless but they may be evidence of the individual’s lack of knowledge about the risks that they are taking.

Lack of Understanding

I think the most common and dangerous reason why individuals take risks when it comes to their allergies is a lack of understanding of the risks that they are taking.  I know of people that will eat products that are labeled with, “may contain allergen X”.  I have questioned their actions and I often receive responses such as, “most of these warnings are there for legal reasons”.  Although there are laws regarding the labeling of food with allergen information, studies suggest that 7% of foods labeled with “may contain allergen X” do contain the allergen (S. Sicherer, 2007).  The fact that individuals are under the impression that the warnings are present strictly for legal reasons suggests that there is a lack of understanding of the risks being taken by some allergy sufferers.

Embarrassment

This category is relatively broad but it is important because I think every person with a severe allergy has been subject to these feelings in regards to their allergies more than once.  I know from experience that it can become quite mundane having to inquire about your allergies in a social situation when you are the only person suffering from allergies.  I often feel like I am being a bother and although I always inquire about the establishment’s policy regarding food allergies, it never is without the feeling of being the centre of attention for that brief moment.  Restaurant employees are often trained to deal with allergies but I often find myself in situations where I am inquiring with someone who does not understand allergies.  I, as most other allergy sufferers, can identify unsafe situations when non-allergy sufferers cannot.  Many people are under the impression that if they do not use an allergen in a dish then the dish is safe for an allergy sufferer.  The person who cooked the dish may insist you will be fine eating it when in reality the allergy sufferer knows they are at risk.  It is somewhat embarrassing to have to turn down the food in this situation because it may appear as if you are rejecting the food being offered to you because you are not interested in it.

It is important for readers to be aware of the reasons why allergy sufferers may act as if they do not have allergies.  If you suffer from allergies then being aware of the above information will help you change or reaffirm your behaviour.  If you do not suffer from allergies then being aware of what an allergy sufferer goes through will help you if you are ever in a situation where an allergy sufferer is making a risky decision.  Always remember, why risk it?

Anaphylaxis Canada. (2010). Research. Retrieved from http://www.whyriskit.ca/pages/en/learn/research.php#question_3

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