5 tips for managing food allergies around the holidays


November 22, 2016

Avoid potentially serious food allergy reactions with these proactive steps.


The holidays can be a challenging time for those with food allergies and their families. Celebrations and evenings together often center on shared meals. What is enjoyable and delicious for many can be anxiety-provoking and potentially dangerous for others.

People with food allergy must strictly avoid eating the food (or foods) that causes them to have allergic reactions, even in small amounts. Reactions often occur within minutes of ingestion, after every exposure, and can cause symptoms ranging from mild to life-threatening. Symptoms may consist of hives, swelling, difficulty breathing or swallowing, abdominal pain, vomiting and loss of consciousness. Reactions should be quickly treated with epinephrine, a life-saving medication.

There are a few ways in which families can plan ahead to avoid potential reactions and for an overall more enjoyable experience. Below are five tips for managing food allergies during the holidays:

1. Communication is key.

Start by calling the host, whether the event is in a home or at a restaurant, and let her know of the allergy. Hosts are usually quick to accommodate guests who have food restrictions and work together to find alternative options. But be sure to remain cautious, as restaurants and the most well-intentioned host can unknowingly serve foods with hidden allergens or cross-contamination.

2. Offer to help the host.

Consider assisting the host with food preparation, or offering to provide ingredient labels. Families of those with food allergies better understand the complexity of the allergy and would be a big help with this step.

3. Be the host!

Have your own party, and serve “safe foods” that are free of major allergens. This also gives you the advantage ahead of time to let guests know what foods are permitted into the party.

4. BYOF: Bring Your Own Food.

This can be a convenient alternative and offer peace of mind to families with extensive or multiple allergies. Unfortunately, even planning ahead and notifying hosts does not guarantee allergy-free food, but this option ensures no one will go hungry.

5. Always be prepared.

Remember to carry a twin pack of EpiPens, a brand of epinephrine auto-injecting syringes, to holiday parties and educate your immediate family on when and how to use them. Ask your allergy provider for a Food Allergy Action Plan so you know exactly what to expect and do during a food allergy reaction.


This post was written by Christina Ortiz, MD, MPH, Fellow, Allergy/Immunology, Board Eligible Pediatrician, with Andrew Nickels, MD, Board Certified Allergist, Pediatrician and Internist, Attending Physician, Vanderbilt Asthma, Allergy, and Sinus Program.


Be sure to consult with your allergy healthcare provider if you have any questions about you or your loved one’s food allergy. Vanderbilt Asthma, Allergy, and Sinus Program (615-936-2727) has board-certified allergists who can help patients of all ages determine what foods they are allergic to and how to manage this challenging disease.