Business Daily (Nairobi)

22 December 2010

Kenya: Allergies Can Kill If the Symptoms Are Not Treated

Have you ever eaten a certain food type and then noticed tiny rashes on your skin?

Well, if the rashes disappeared within a short while, count yourself lucky because you never developed further health complications.

The rashes could have meant that you are allergic to the food type.

While some forms of allergy clear in less than a day after the reaction, others may go on for long to the extent of even causing death if not attended to.

"Different people experience different extents of severity in allergies. For some, the reaction may last for a day or less while to others it may be a starting point for other complications," said Dr Elizabeth Kuria, a senior nutrition lecturer at Kenyatta University.

Allergies are an indication of the body's reaction to certain substances.

Food allergies differ with individuals but among the commonly reacted to food types are milk and dairy products, meat, nuts and wheat products.

Various signs

People reacting to these food types will show various signs including swelling of lips and tongue, headaches, watery eyes, nausea and blockages in the respiratory system.

"An allergic reaction that causes swelling around the respiratory system is more likely to cause death within a short time as a person becomes unable to breathe," said Lina Njoroge, a clinical nutritionist.

It is during that time of the year when festivities are at their peak. Christmas celebrations call for parties in many households.

Central in most of the parties is food and drink. Certain types of these two could be among causes of allergies.

"There are many causes of allergic reactions. Certain foods and drinks only form part of substances that can cause allergies," added Ms Njoroge, citing the need to understand the basic allergy triggering foods while preparing to host a party.

As allergic reactions differ depending on an individual, it then becomes a hurdle for a host to come up with a menu that will accommodate the needs of every single guest.

According to health experts, it calls for careful handling of the various food types as a measure to counter possible incidents of allergies.

But this is not considered the ultimate solution to allergy problems likely to result from parties.

The guests too have role to play by understanding their reactions to food types.

"It is best when an individual knows what food types they react to. This makes the situation easier as one can choose what they eat from the party," said Jean Banda, a local nutritionist.

While others agree that a host should communicate with his/her guests to understand their type of menu and any reactions they may have to food, others argue that such inquiries would raise uncomfortable perception among the guests.

"One should weigh what type of guests they are having in their list before opting to make inquiries on possible allergic reactions. To some this may be probing into their confidential issues," added Ms Banda.

Hosting a large group of guests, some who one may not be so familiar with can be challenging.

The situation could be easier when hosting close family members whose eating habits a host is familiar with.

Hence, provision of a wide menu can give your guests the freedom to choose what they want to eat.

Such freedom does away with confidentiality challenges. But a host has to be careful while preparing meals to avoid gross contamination that results from mixing food types.

"Handle each food type differently. It is advised that you wash utensils used in handling a certain food type before using them to prepare other foods," added Ms Njoroge.

This is applicable to one using the same set of utensils to prepare the entire meal.

Investing in different sets of utensils like having a chopping board for vegetables, one for fruits and another for meat products would help

For example, a frying pan used to fry eggs and later used for cooking fish may result into different reactions among non-consumers of each of the food types.

While shopping for the Christmas party, it is advised that one carefully studies food labels so as to ascertain components of foodstuffs.

A person reacting to gluten, a component in wheat products may avoid baked foods.

However, without much knowledge, the same consumer can choose gravy soup ingredients from the shelves, some which contain gluten as an ingredient meant to thicken the soup.

Adult guests are able to choose appropriate food from a wide menu. Rarely do children understand their allergic reactions.

"For children the case may be more challenging. Parents need to study and understand their children's reactions to foods types while they are growing up," said Ms Banda.

Among the commonly proposed methods of doing this is the elimination technique where a parent introduces one food at a time to a growing child while doing away with those that cause negative reactions to the child.

The same method can also be used by individuals to identify their food allergies after which health experts advice that one visits a physician for further prescription.

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