5 tips for managing food allergies around the holidays


November 24, 2023

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.

“Holiday parties can be difficult to navigate for people with life-threatening food allergies.”

“Holiday parties can be difficult to navigate for people with life-threatening food allergies,” said Dr. Basil Kahwash, allergist/immunologist with Vanderbilt Asthma, Sinus and Allergy. “When a patient has one of these food allergies, they can develop a reaction from consuming even a small amount of the food in question — sometimes within minutes.”

Symptoms may consist of hives, swelling, difficulty breathing, abdominal pain, vomiting and lightheadedness, which can lead to loss of consciousness. Reactions should be quickly treated with an injection of 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. Kahwash offered five tips for managing food allergies during the holidays:

1. Communication is key.

Whether the event is in a home or at a restaurant, start by calling and letting the host 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 even 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 tracking ingredient labels. Families of loved ones with food allergies tend to understand the complexity of the allergy and can contribute to the host’s ability to safely feed all guests.

3. Be the host!

Better yet: Throw your own party and serve only dishes that are free of major allergens. This also gives you the advantage to let guests know in advance what foods they’re permitted to bring.

4. BYOF: Bring Your Own Food.

You can also bring your own meal items and stick to only eating from them. This offers total peace of mind to families with extensive or multiple allergies.

5. Always be prepared.

Remember to carry at least two epinephrine auto-injecting syringes (commonly known by their brand name, EpiPen) to holiday parties. Be sure to educate immediate family members of individuals with food allergy about when and how to use them. Ask your allergist/immunologist for a Food Allergy Action Plan so you know exactly what to expect during a food allergy reaction and how to respond to one.


Need help with allergies?

Be sure to consult with your allergy health care provider if you have any questions about your 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 condition.

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