Anaphylaxis and Food Allergies at Christmas

Christmas is coming – will Santa bring you a new EpiPen?

Christmas parties, meals out with friends and a shop full of nuts (the edible kind, not the shoppers) – while this is great fun, there’s a risk that more people than usual will be exposed to food they are allergic too, without knowing it. Food allergies are common, with about 1 in 25 Canadians having a food allergy, although the anaphylaxis rate is less. So, what can you do?

EpiPens are portable epinephrine-dispensing de...

EpiPens are portable epinephrine-dispensing devices which can be used to alleviate the symptoms of severe, acute allergies. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Avoiding Triggers

Remind people! Sure you might once have told your hosts that you have an allergy, but a gentle reminder is always helpful, especially at Christmas when things get busy!

Just say ‘no’ – if you don’t know what’s in it. Even if you do, can you really be sure there was no cross-contamination in the busy Christmas kitchen. You already know to play it safe, don’t change things now.

Bring snacks, especially if your kids have allergies. You can bring safe foods, or you can just hope. Play it safe.

Stay home. If it works for you, host the party yourself – then you know it’s safe.

Bring your treatment with you – EpiPen, TwinJect or whatever else you use. Have it close to hand!

Know the Symptoms

The following symptoms of a severe allergic reaction can occur within minutes or several hours after exposure to an allergy trigger:

  • Mouth: itching, swelling of the lips and/or tongue
  • Throat: itching, tightness, closure, hoarseness
  • Skin: itching, hives, redness, swelling
  • Gut: vomiting, diarrhea, cramps
  • Lungs: shortness of breath, cough, wheeze
  • Heart: weak pulse, dizziness, passing out (due to low blood pressure)

Within minutes, an allergic reaction may turn into a life-threatening severe allergic reaction. Sometimes the reaction can occur in two phases, with another reaction occurring up to 38 hours after the initial reaction.


Hive, lip swelling on a young boy

In a severe allergic emergency, quick symptom recognition and immediate treatment are vital. The two most common symptoms of a severe allergic reaction are:

  • Hives, and
  • Swelling (especially the throat, lips, tongue)

Whether it’s for yourself or for guests, make sure you know the signs & symptoms of anaphylaxis.

Treating Anaphylaxis

Call 9-1-1 or your local emergency medical services.

Help the person to use their epinephrine (EpiPen or Twinject) if they have it.

Epinephrine, the medicine in an EpiPen, is the treatment of choice for severe allergic reactions. It is the drug form of a hormone that the body produces naturally.

Epinephrine helps reverse a severe allergic reaction and should be used immediately after you start experiencing severe allergic symptoms.

Using epinephrine immediately after you have been exposed to your allergy trigger may prove to be life-saving.

In most individuals, epinephrine is effective after 1 injection. However, symptoms may recur and further injections may be required to control the reaction. Epinephrine can be re-injected every 5 to 15 minutes until the severe allergic reaction stops completely.

Make sure the people most likely to be with you know what to do and have had a chance to practice with a dummy EpiPen. Better yet, buy them a place on one of our courses where they’ll learn CPR too.


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About Tony Howarth

Tony is a First Aid & CPR Instructor Trainer with Sea 2 Sky Safety Training Services and the company founder. Tony started with the British Red Cross in 1994. Has acted as first aid attendant for hundreds of events & treated many hundreds of people as a result. He is experienced in training a wide range of courses. He previously worked as an ambulance attendant with the British Red Cross. He is now in BC as a first aid instructor, and an instructor trainer (one who trains others to become instructors) Finally, Tony works at Squamish General Hospital as the pharmacist manager when not busy training safety
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2 Responses to Anaphylaxis and Food Allergies at Christmas

  1. Pingback: Common Food Allergies | Histamine Intolerance

  2. Marie says:

    Unfortunately accidents do happen. be prepared. Self carry the Epipen on you at all times.
    For kids 8 and older there are discreet epi undergarment options
    Have a happy, healthy, Holidays Season!

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