As we continue to shelter-in-place during this pandemic, first responders have their hands full with COVID-19 patients and emergency rooms are filled beyond capacity dealing with victims of coronavirus. Now is not the time to need the urgent medical care required with the onset of anaphylaxis.
So what can we — the food allergy community — do to mitigate the danger? There are a number of common sense things, but two jump out as most important.
Now is not the time to try new foods
This may seem painfully obvious, but based on the number of inquiries we are receiving, the message is not sinking in.
We know your food choices were limited before the crisis and that finding your go-to brands now might be difficult or near impossible. Combine that with the monotony that is the hallmark of this lockdown and you might be tempted to try new products from manufacturers you know little about.
Now is not the time.
The last thing you need is to increase the risk of anaphylaxis, especially if you or your child are victims of frequent reactions. Stick with the tried and tested foods and ingredients you know and have on-hand. [Visit our #SnackSafelyAtHome page if you need help finding your products online, often discounted.]
Now is not the time to start or up-dose desensitization therapy
Many are turning to oral immunotherapy (OIT), sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT), and other treatments for desensitization from their allergens and deriving significant benefit. Most immunotherapies for food allergy in practice today work by introducing small amounts of the allergen and increasing the dosage slowly over time, thus desensitizing the patient.
The times when inadvertent reactions are most likely to occur are at the start of therapy and with each up-dosing, often timed every two weeks or so.
Now is not the time.
Many allergists have stopped taking on new patients for desensitization therapy and have placed their current patients on maintenance, keeping them at their current dose of allergen and suspending up-dosing until the crisis abates.
If you or a family member are receiving immunotherapy for allergen desensitization, be sure to discuss continuing the therapy with your allergist and understand the risks and benefits of doing so.
Now IS the time to listen carefully to your allergist
Dr Jeffrey Factor of the Connecticut Asthma & Allergy Center in West Hartford told Medscape Medical News that his patients undergoing desensitization to foods usually increase their dose every two weeks, but he has discontinued that practice to reduce the risk for allergic reactions.
He emphasizes that the best approach is to be extra careful about food choices right now:
The last thing you want is to have to go to the emergency room and be exposed to whatever is there. What I’m telling my patients is that now is not the time to be adventuresome with new foods. Maintain what you’re doing; don’t try new things.
On the bright side, he explains that closed schools and stay-at-home orders might actually be an advantage for parents of children with food allergies: “Some people are breathing a little sigh of relief right now because their biggest concern is usually what kids eat when they’re out of the house.” Now parents can maintain dietary restrictions but take “kind of a break from their constant vigilance.”
“I’m not hearing about any increases in allergic emergencies right now, and this is probably why,” he added.