Managing Sesame and Seed Allergies
You’ve just come home from the doctor’s office. You have a white prescription slip for an EpiPen and a newly diagnosed sesame allergy for your child.
Life is about to change, but rest assured, food allergies can be managed. It helps if you to adopt a cautious, not fearful, approach and develop a plan. Allergy management is a journey, but one most navigate quite successfully.
Experts in the allergy field advocate for a triple AAA rating when it comes to allergy management: Awareness, Avoidance, and Action (in the case of emergency). This three-pronged approach should give you some assurance and a good foundation to manage your sesame allergy. Your child’s allergies may even include other seeds such as sunflower, mustard, flax, or even perilla or hempseed.
Awareness: Educating Others
Sesame and seed allergies are on the rise, but many still find them unusual. It’s important that your family, friends, child’s coaches and teachers all know about the sesame or other seed allergy. Most people who care about your child will want to help out, although they might forget from time-to-time and offer foods that he or she can’t eat. That’s to be expected.
The concept of “tell, show, do” is a good one for building awareness. You can tell people about the allergy, and even print out a brochure about sesame that’s available from Health Canada. You can show them the auto-injector (and how it’s used) and the MedicAlert bracelet, or print off information about sesame allergy.
Make sure you fill out all the necessary anaphylaxis emergency plan form with photo for your child. Provide an auto-injector, and meet with teachers to discuss allergies and your strategy.
Make it your goal to build support and create a safe circle around you. Be helpful: Do volunteer to bring sesame and seed alternative foods to group parties: such as the buns without sesame or bring eggplant dip instead of hummus dip which often uses ground sesame. This helps you continue to fit in, and assists those who may be nervous about feeding your child.
Avoidance: Get Alternatives
Not eating or otherwise ingesting sesame (or other seeds) is the key to staying safe and healthy. Making your own food in a sesame-free home is the first line of defense. Many foods can be made with seedless alternatives: you bake granola bars without seeds, make hummus with chickpeas, garlic and olive oil.
Learn to read labels. Every time. The labeling of sesame and other seeds is not required in the U.S., but you can still call a manufacturer if you suspect it might be in the ingredients. In Canada, sesame is one of the priority allergens and must be listed in store-bought food ingredients. Learn the alternate names for sesame (see below) and beware of generic items like “spices” or “vegetable oil” that can contain sesame seeds or their oils.
Try to stick to foods from countries with stricter labeling requirements. Since sesame is used extensively in baking and imported foods from Asia – where there are not strict allergen controls, you may want to avoid buying those items and make an alternative versions of them at home.
Read food allergy labels carefully every time. Ingredients do change. One popular spaghetti sauce recently began adding sesame oil after years of using another type.
Avoidance: Eating Out Safely
Eating at restaurants is tricky for anyone with allergies, child or adult. Those with sesame or mustard allergies, however, may want to avoid fast-food burger places because of the sesame buns, amount of mustard on the premises. With sesame, Asian or Indian restaurants are also not a good choice – and vegetarian restaurants often rely on seeds for protein.
Better choices are those that use less sesame as a mainstay, perhaps a good steak house (careful about marinades and seasoning) or Italian pasta.
Always let servers know about the allergy and ask them to check all ingredients with the cook.
Because seeds are so tiny and portable, cross-contamination is a threat. In other words, the baked goods you buy could have seed residues from previous baking sheets, and the same goes with cooking from a relative’s house.
Toasters may contain sesames from bagels and barbecue grills could have sesame residues from buns warmed there, or meat that’s been marinaded. Talk to anyone who has prepared food to find out what kind of oils, and ingredients were used. Err on the side of caution.
Preparing for an Emergency
Everyone makes mistakes. Accidentally eating sesame seeds can happen – you buy 12-grain bread and don’t check it carefully enough and your child reacts or it’s your allergy and you forget and offhandedly nibble a cracker at a party.
It’s important to be prepared. A physician will prescribe an auto-injector full of adrenaline and you should have it on you at all times.
Prepare for an emergency. Post emergency information on the fridge. Practice using an auto-injector (EpiPen or Twinject) before an emergency. There are trainers and starter kits available online.
Healthy Emotional Outlook
Many people feel stress over allergy. There is quite of bit of research showing allergy worry can have a profound impact on quality of life.
The mentally healthy stance is caution rather than fear, according to most allergy experts. Those who are fearful can’t think clearly should an emergency arise, and living this way is just no fun at all.
Find helpful support in Allergicliving.com’s Forum and at meetings of support groups affiliated with FARE, or in Canada, with Food Allergy Canada. Those will allergies love to swap tips and stories about products without sesame (or other seeds). If you reach out, you’ll find an impassioned community of supporters to help you on the allergy journey.