HomeAsk the allergist: Your questions answered – September 2020

Ask the allergist: Your questions answered – September 2020

September 18, 2020

Ask the allergist is a regular feature in our newsletters where Dr. Julia Upton answers your questions! 

Dr. Julia Upton
Dr. Julia Upton

Dr. Julia Upton is a Canadian allergist who is on staff at Toronto’s SickKids Hospital in the Immunology and Allergy Department. She is an Associate Professor in the Department of Paediatrics at the University of Toronto and is the Section Chair of Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis with the CSACI. Dr. Upton is also a member of our Healthcare Advisory Board.

Please note: Dr. Upton is answering as an individual allergist and her answers do not constitute an official position of her affiliated organizations. Her responses are for informational purposes only and do not constitute specific medical advice, recommendations, diagnosis, or treatment. Please talk to your doctor about any concerns or questions you may have regarding your own health or the health of your child.

This month she answers your questions about allergies to foods other than the priority food allergens and allergens in non-food products.

Q. Can you be allergic to foods other than the priority food allergens?

A. Yes, a person can be allergic to any food. In Canada, the priority food allergens are associated with the majority of allergic reactions and are therefore a focus for labelling. These food allergens include peanut, tree nuts, sesame, milk, egg, fish, crustaceans (e.g. lobster, shrimp) and molluscs (e.g. scallops, clams), soy, wheat and triticale, and mustard.

Canadian food labelling regulations require that the priority food allergens are always identified on labels of pre-packaged foods by their common names so that consumers can easily recognize them. Allergy to a food not on this list poses an extra challenge in management because these labelling rules may not apply in the same way.*

Notes from Food Allergy Canada:

As with any food allergy, it’s important to understand what ingredients are in a food along with how it is prepared and served so cross-contamination is avoided. Learn more about priority food allergens and reading food labels. Remember that according to food allergen labelling regulations, the common name of the priority food allergens, gluten sources (wheat, triticale, barley, rye, oats) and added sulphites must be included on a food label.

*If any food, priority allergen or not, is an ingredient of a food product, it must be labelled. There is an exemption for components (ingredients of ingredients); these do not have to be labelled unless they are a priority food allergen. Learn more about the list of ingredients and allergens here.

If your child has had a reaction to a food other than a priority food allergen, participate in a study on emerging allergens. Take the survey, it closes on September 30, 2020.

Q. Can allergens in non-food products, like skin cream, cause a reaction?

A. Yes, there are numerous types of adverse reactions to products applied to or that come in contact with skin. These skin reactions can be from an irritant, such as having hands constantly wet and irritated from washing a lot of dishes, or allergic, such as an itchy rash to poison ivy. Many skin products including creams, sunscreens and hair dyes contain possible irritants or allergens. Usually these reactions are limited to the skin.

If you know the product causing the rash, this is an excellent starting point for your doctor to find out the cause. If you do not know, a careful history of possible exposures can often reveal the cause and therefore what to avoid. If the cause is not clear from the history, “patch testing” to suspected substances may be required. Patch testing is where a small amount of the possible allergen is applied to the skin for a few days and then the area is watched for a reaction.

Note from Food Allergy Canada:

Food allergens can be present in products you don’t expect, from personal care to hand sanitizers to cleaning products. That’s why it’s always important to read the list of ingredients. Note, the food allergen labelling laws do not cover non-food products, this means priority allergens do not have to be called out or put in plain simple language. Please ensure you read the ingredient list carefully.

Do you have a question you’d like to ask Dr. Upton in the months to come? If so, please send it along to us at info@foodallergycanada.ca.

Please note: Dr. Upton answers questions on general topics, please talk to your doctor if you have questions about your own health or the health of your child.

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