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Food allergies and asthma can be double trouble

A child pulls an epi pen from a lunchbox.

Nov. 3, 2020—Asthma and food allergies sometimes go hand in hand. And that can be a dangerous combo.

If you have food allergies, eating something you're allergic to can trigger an asthma attack. And asthma can also affect how you react to food allergies. For example, having both conditions puts you at increased risk for anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction that can be life-threatening. Symptoms can include:

  • Breathing problems.
  • Hives.
  • Swelling.
  • Itching in the mouth and throat.
  • Nausea and vomiting.

Your best move? Play keep-away

There is no cure for a food allergy. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, avoiding the offending food is the only sure way to prevent problems.

Your doctor can help you pinpoint the food causing your allergies. Foods that contain sulfites as an additive are often linked to asthma attacks. Foods high in sulfites can include:

  • Dried fruits and vegetables.
  • Packaged potatoes.
  • Potato chips.
  • Wine and beer.
  • Bottled lime and lemon juice.
  • Shrimp.
  • Pickled foods.
  • Soft drinks.
  • Fruit juices.
  • Cider vinegar.

Living with a food allergy

If you're diagnosed with a food allergy, your doctor may prescribe an epinephrine injector to use in case of a severe allergic reaction. Be sure to always carry it with you. It's the only drug that can reverse symptoms of anaphylaxis, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI).

The ACAAI offers the following tips for avoiding foods you're allergic to:

Become a label reader. Read all ingredient labels carefully—even if it's a food you wouldn't think contained your allergen. Avoid foods that say they "may contain" your food allergen.

Remember that non-food products count too. Read ingredient labels on products like lotions, soaps and medications to make sure they don't contain your allergen.

Be a cautious diner. Let restaurant staff know about your allergy—and ask about ingredients before you order. Choose simply prepared food. And think about skipping dessert, which often contains food allergens.

Have a travel plan. Decide how you'll handle your food allergy on the road. You might need to pack your own snacks, for instance, or check out allergy-friendly restaurant options ahead of time. And be sure you always have your emergency medication handy—not in checked luggage.

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