One of the nation’s leading medical researchers, scientists and physicians in the field of food allergies and anaphylaxis is warning parents to not let their guard down during this particularly stressful holiday season.
“While family gatherings will likely not be as crowded as in past years due to COVID-19 restrictions, parents still need to be smart and aware of what they serve and what ingredients they use if they have a child who suffers from food anaphylaxis,” said Inderpal Randhawa, M.D., CEO and chief medical officer of the Southern California Food Allergy Institute. “For those who suffer from food anaphylaxis, the holidays can be a very trying time; but parents can make it less so by being proactive and planning ahead when it comes to holiday meals. It is very important that children do not feel punished, deprived or fearful because they have a food allergy.”
According to Food Allergy Research and Education, about one out of every 13 children is allergic to at least one food; and about 40% of those children have experienced severe, life-threatening reactions. Approximately 90% of all food allergies are caused by one of eight foods—many of which are often included in preparing holiday meals: eggs, milk, peanuts, wheat, soy, tree nuts, fish and shellfish. It does not take much consumption of any of these foods to cause a severe reaction in highly allergic people.
In many states, stay-at-home orders are in effect this holiday season, which should be adhered to, as emotionally difficult as it may be. For others, where limited venturing outside of their immediate family circle is permissible, Dr. Randhawa advises food allergy parents to speak in advance with the host. Explain the situation, and offer to help in any way they can, whether that means helping to prepare the food or bringing their own “safe” food. Parents should also remind their child that he/she can only eat approved foods, and parents should make sure that their child is always supervised.
“If you are getting together with others—hopefully in very small groups this year—the best approach is to offer to be the host,” said Dr. Randhawa. “Parents already have the know-how to make delicious food that is allergy free. When guests offer to help or ask what they can bring, you can ask them to come early to help prepare or share recipe ideas. To prevent the transfer of food allergens, everyone should wash their hands before and after eating, counters and tables should be scrubbed down before and after meals, and separate utensils that have not come into contact with allergens should be used when eating or serving food.”
The Southern California Food Allergy Institute, which Dr. Randhawa founded, is a one-of-a-kind treatment center that has treated more patients than any center in the world for food anaphylaxis. It is operated in conjunction with the Translational Pulmonary & Immunology Research Center, a nonprofit biotechnology and clinical research center founded by Dr. Randhawa in 2015 to focus on developing cutting-edge, individualized treatment protocols for rare and orphan diseases.
At the institute, Dr. Randhawa and his team are leveraging trillions of diagnostic data points gathered from more than 10,000 food-allergic patients to understand how food allergies affect a child’s immune system. The goal in all of this is to “retrain” a child’s immune system to become less and less anaphylactic and more and more tolerant.
“To date we have treated nearly 11,000 food anaphylactic children; and for those who have completed the program, there is a better than 99% success rate,” said Dr. Randhawa. “These children are now able to eat whatever food they want without concern of a reaction to the foods they once feared. It is what we call “food freedom” and is truly a life-altering achievement for the child and their parents.”
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