Monday, June 24, 2013

UFAN Food Allergy Conference a Success!

Last Saturday, I attended the third annual Food Allergy Conference in Salt Lake City, put on by the Utah Food Allergy Network. The half-day conference was jam-packed full of information and ideas – after a dozen years of dealing with food allergies, I still found myself taking lots of notes and learning new things.

Dr. Robert Silge, from Salt Lake City and Taylorsville, gave a presentation that just about blew my socks off with the amount of information he crammed into a single hour. He started off by discussing skin and blood tests, how they work, and what they mean. He reminded us that those tests can tell you the chance that you’ll have a reaction, but not how severe the reaction will be. So just because your score is “low” doesn’t mean you won’t have a severe reaction to that food someday.

I lead a discussion on eating out and traveling with food allergies
Dr. Silge also talked about the role platelet activating factor (PAF) plays in reactions, and how epinephrine works. He summarized EGID and how those diseases differ from a regular food allergy. Then he moved on to talk about the various treatments that are currently being studied, and how many of them are promising, but there is no long-term evidence to show how effective any of them are long-term yet, and that the results so far show widely varying results that are highly individual for each patient. And that’s just a sample of the topics he covered. (And I was left wondering if any research is being done into how to boost the enzymes needed to break down PAFs in our bodies, so that we don’t experience anaphylaxis. I’ll have to look into that soon.)

In addition, there were other presentations on eosinophilic disorders (EGIDs), how to handle food allergy plans for school, feeding and swallowing therapy, creative cooking with food substitutions, tips for handling social situations, how to live well with a chronic health condition, and tips for adults living with food allergies and EGIDs.

I was even invited to lead a discussion called “Eating Out & Traveling with Dietary Restrictions,” which turned out to be a lot of fun, and I hope helpful for everyone who participated.

Teens like my son and his friend had their own sessions.
For the first time, the conference this year included a teen track, where teens spent their half-day entirely in their own rooms discussing topics related to their unique needs. My son and his friend were able to attend, and my son even gave a short PowerPoint introduction of himself and his allergies as an icebreaker. Although neither my son nor his friend were sure they needed to attend (“I know how to handle my allergies, Mom!”), they both seemed to have a good time and even thought of friends they should have invited afterwards. So I think the teen track was a success and will be an important part of next year’s conference.

Many thanks to UFAN board members and volunteers for putting together this amazing half-day conference. I’m already looking forward to next year!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Food Allergy Emergencies on Planes are Rare

By Kelley Lindberg

Flying somewhere this summer? Great! A new study, just published in the New England Journal of Medicine, says the odds of having an in-flight medical emergency are rare. (“Outcomes of Medical Emergencies on Commercial Airline Flights,” New England Journal of Medicine, May 30, 3013.)

According to the study, 2.75 billion passengers fly worldwide every year. The authors of the study analyzed records from all calls to a medical communications center from five large domestic and international airlines, which together represent about 10% of global flight passengers. After analyzing the data from more than 7 million flights, they categorized the number and the type of medical emergencies as well as their outcomes (whether or not the passenger had to go to the hospital after landing, whether they were admitted, etc.).

The study shows good news. Medical emergencies are rare, occurring on only 1 out of every 604 flights, affecting only 16 out of every 1 million passengers. According to the authors, “the most common medical problems were syncope [fainting] or presyncope (37.4%), respiratory symptoms (12.1%), and nausea or vomiting (9.5%).”

Allergic reactions were about half-way down the list, lower than cardiac symptoms and seizures. Allergic reactions accounted for only 2.2% of the medical emergencies – that’s just 2.2% of the 16 out of a million passengers. So out of the estimated 744 million airline passengers analyzed during the study period, there were a total of 11,920 medical emergencies reported, and only 265 of them were an allergic reaction. (It doesn’t break down “allergic reactions” into causes, so we don’t know how many were caused by food allergies, environmental allergies, or other.)

And of those 265 allergic reactions, only 12 required the aircraft to be diverted, 40 required transport to a hospital, and only 8 were actually admitted to the hospital. Here’s the best part: there were zero (0) deaths caused by an allergic reaction on the plane.

Remember, that’s out of 744 MILLION total passengers studied during that time frame.

So… airplanes are scary. Peanuts on airplanes are even scarier. But if you consider how many people with food allergies fly every year (and we’re one of those families), these numbers were actually really surprising to me – I thought they would be a lot higher. I actually have an adult friend who had a food allergy reaction on a plane once, so I know it happens. But I’m surprised at how seldom it happens, according to this study. (And my friend knew nuts didn’t agree with her, but had never had a serious reaction before the airplane incident, so she wasn’t as prepared as she might have been had she known.)

What I would love to see now is a study that is more specific to food allergic passengers. I'd like to see how many food-allergic people have flown on airplanes during a particular time period, and then see the percentage of THOSE people who had reactions on airplanes. That would really show us some concrete information. So if there are any researchers out there looking for a good topic... have I got an idea for you!

Please understand, I’m not trivializing the risks of food allergies on airplanes. The risk is DEFINITELY still there. Here is a story of a woman who is severely allergic to peanut allergy who reacts to airborne particles (which may be more severe than some allergic individuals), and her bad reaction on a recent United flight: "Peanut Allergy Causes Emergency Landing, Airline Sued," As we plan our vacations, we need to remember to be vigilant – take HandiWipes to wipe down the seat tray, seat belt, and arm rests; notify the flight attendant of your allergies (especially if you are traveling alone); keep your antihistamine and epinephrine auto-injectors handy; and pack your own food or snacks for the flight if at all possible.

By staying vigilant and being careful, we can reduce those numbers of medical emergencies even more.

And, if the unthinkable happens and you DO suffer an allergic reaction on the plane, there’s more good news. The FAA mandates that every commercial airline keep an emergency medical kit onboard, and epinephrine is a required medication in that kit. In addition, the study also showed that when the flight attendants asked for medical help over the PA system, physicians were on board 48% of the time, and professional nurses or emergency medical technicians (EMTs) were on board another 25% of the time. So chances are very good that there will be professional medical help on your flight should you need it.

So if travel is in your future, plan ahead and stay vigilant, but rest a little easier knowing that the odds appear to be good that you’ll have a great time.


Monday, June 10, 2013

Utah Food Allergy Conference is June 22, 2013

by Kelley Lindberg

Whatever your plans for the summer, be sure you make time to attend the third annual Utah Food Allergy Conference, hosted by the Utah Food Allergy Network (UFAN)! It’s only a half-day long, and tickets are only $10 (yes, that’s right, just $10), so you definitely don’t want to miss out!

Here are the details:

Date: Saturday, June 22, 2013

Check in: 8:00am

Conference: 8:30am - 12:30pm

Location: Doty Education Center, Intermountain Medical Center, 5121 Cottonwood St., Murray, UT 84107

Educational topics include:

·         Food allergy 

·         Research updates

·         Eosinophilic disorders 

·         Nutrition with dietary restrictions

·         Eating out & traveling

·         Epinephrine & anaphylaxis training

·         How to advocate and communicate effectively

·         Psychological implications and living well with a chronic health condition

·         Special topic TBA

·         New this year - Teen session track for ages 11-17!

Speakers include:

·         Board Certified Allergists

·         Gastroenterologist

·         Dietitian

·         School Nurse

·         Psychologist

·         FARE Education Manager (Teen sessions)

·         Special guest speaker to be announced soon! 

You can register online right up until midnight the night before the conference, but do it now while you’re thinking about it. (That will also help UFAN organizers plan for seating, etc.) I’ve already registered myself and my teenage son, who is looking forward to meeting other teens and sharing ideas and stories for navigating these crazy teen years with food allergies.

Monday, June 3, 2013

S.A.F.E. Food Labels

by Kelley Lindberg

Fellow blogger Daniella Knell ( has just launched her first food-allergy product, and it’s a great one. Her S.A.F.E. food allergy labels are a simple idea that most of us wish we’d thought of earlier!

The larger labels say “S.A.F.E. for___________,” and you can write your child’s name in the blank. These are absolutely ideal for preschool, school, camp, nursery, day care, babysitters, birthday parties, or anywhere else you send your child. When you send safe food or snacks with your child to Grandma’s house or to day care, for example, you can put a sticker on the snack package that says “S.A.F.E. for Johnny” and there won’t be any confusion.

The smaller-sized labels just say “S.A.F.E.,” and they are perfect for at home (where you don’t need to include the child’s name).

The main benefit is obvious – your child’s safe food is clearly labeled with brightly colored stickers that make it easy to find and easy to keep separate from other children’s food.

But Daniella says that one of the unexpected benefits of these labels is that they can empower your child, giving them a sense of control as they label their very own food.

I’m all for that!

Thanks, Daniella, for a great product that will help keep our kids safe. To order the labels, click here to visit her new S.A.F.E. Online Store.