The number of people currently living with food allergies is growing dramatically and the exact reasons why are hotly debated. Is it our dependence on being too clean? Did we always have them, and they are over-diagnosed? According to FARE – Food Allergy Research & Education, it is estimated that 32 million people have food allergies, including 5.6 million children – or about one in 13 children, or roughly two in every classroom.
Currently, the only way to manage food allergies is avoidance. However, emerging immuno-therapies have been designed to induce immune tolerance to peanuts. These therapies have not yet received FDA approval, but they are considered breakthroughs for people managing life-threatening peanut allergies. Food allergies are a very serious matter that presents challenges not only medically, but socially.
If you or a family member has one, you know firsthand how difficult it can be to manage it. I reached out to a friend, who has a son with a severe peanut allergy. She let me know that the allergy community is relying heavily on new digital tools to help manage their lives and keep the epi-pen at bay. Here are a few:
- Retail Technology: Kroger, America’s largest retail chain and tech giant Microsoft, recently announced a collaboration to redefine the grocery shopping experience called EDGE – Enhanced Display for Grocery Environment. The technology will replace traditional paper shelf tags and signage with Microsoft cloud-based data that users scan with their Smartphones. For those with allergies (or intolerance), the best part is that the data will highlight allergy and nutritional information in food products without having to read labels; which can be confusing to those that have a hard time deciphering “hidden” allergens, such as sesame – an allergy that has been growing at a rapid rate. Sesame has been known to appear as an ingredient in unexpected foods such as granola and snack chips.
- Portable Allergen Sensors: Nima, a hand-held device developed by two MIT students (at the time) that suffer from food allergies and intolerance. The device offers capabilities to scan a small sample of food and in a matter of minutes, it will tell you (depending on which device) whether it contains gluten or peanuts. The company’s mission is, “Nima enables people to be their healthiest selves by giving them the power to know what’s in their food.” Note: be sure to speak to your health professional before trying this product or other allergy sensors.
- User Generated Content: Living with a food allergy often means leaning on your peers and other parents for support and tips to help manage life. This includes which restaurants are safe to dine out in. One app that excels in user generated content is AllergyEats, which aggregates detailed reviews from restaurants all over the country on their allergy-friendly options and practices. This app can help take the guessing out of where to dine when traveling to a new city and help keep everyone safe (and, maybe even happy).
Do you or your loved ones have a food allergy or intolerance? If so, do you use digital tools to manage it?