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Empathy and Food Allergies: Four Things I Wish People Knew

According to Merriam Webster, empathy is defined as being aware of, understanding, and vicariously experiencing the feelings of others (“Empathy Definition & Meaning”). Life with a hidden condition like food allergies has a lot of challenges that people don’t recognize. It can be hard if you don’t have food allergies to show compassion for a situation that is so drastically different from your own. Many people with food allergies share the same experiences of receiving countless questions or witnessing media misrepresentation of food allergies. As a teen with food allergies, I have found that teaching about food allergies, especially in schools, encourages people to better understand and therefore have compassion for this condition that affects over 33 million Americans. In this article, I will talk about four things I wish more people knew about food allergies.

Oral Food Challenges

Imagine eating a food that you have been told for seventeen years to avoid because it would cause you to have a severe anaphylactic reaction. That’s an oral food challenge. According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology, oral food challenges are medical procedures in which a person’s allergen is eaten in increasing amounts to rule out or diagnose a true food allergy (“What Do Patients and Caregivers Need to Know about Oral Food Challenges?”). Even after enduring three oral food challenges myself, every time it is still a unique and not fun experience. While I’ve found lots of ways to make my oral food challenges and now oral immunotherapy (desensitization through continued doses of an allergen) fun, such as dairy-free icing on muffins, partaking in oral food challenges is one challenging part of food allergies that is not often talked about. 

Reading Ingredient Labels

Another part of food allergies is reading countless ingredient labels. I love teaching my younger sister and my friends to read ingredient labels. While checking the back of a bag of cookies is something some people do, reading the fine print is new to most people. Reading ingredient labels is a tedious part of food allergies but also one that becomes second-nature. It is important for people to know about this challenge of life with food allergies not only so they understand this additional part of food allergies but also to encourage taking that extra step at parties and gatherings to not throw away the chip bag and to give guests an opportunity to see the labels. This could prevent an anaphylactic reaction.

Listening Ear

To be a good friend to someone with food allergies, one of the best things you can do is listen. Of course, knowing your friend’s food allergies and how to use an EpiPen is also an incredible way to show that you care for your food allergy friends, but simply listening to their concerns or fears demonstrates that as well. Often, people with food allergies find that other people don’t understand the challenges they experience, but being a listening ear for a food allergy friend shows that you have empathy. Knowing how to appropriately ask questions is another way to be kind to someone with food allergies. Don’t just bring up what you think you may know from T.V. shows or movies but instead be open to learning from someone who has actually experienced life with food allergies. 

Learn About Food Allergies

Finally, learn about food allergies from accurate sources. Through teaching elementary school kids in my community about food allergies, I have found that some kids are able to empathize best once they understand more details and hear stories. Even if the kids didn’t have food allergies, learning the top nine allergens and the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction encouraged them to see life with food allergies in a different way. If you don’t have food allergies, use resources such as Food Allergy Research and Education, Red Sneakers for Oakley, Teach Teal: Food Allergy Awareness, and more to accurately understand the challenges of food allergies. It is simple: being more educated on food allergies could change lives and potentially save a life, too!

I hope that through this article you learned a little more about life with food allergies. By learning more about food allergies, it should become easier to empathize, not just with people with food allergies, but anyone whose life situation you may not understand. 

Works Cited

“Empathy Definition & Meaning.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Oct. 2023. 

“Oral Immunotherapy (OIT) in Practice.” FoodAllergy.Org, Food Allergy Research and Education, Accessed 1 Oct. 2023.

“What Do Patients and Caregivers Need to Know about Oral Food Challenges?” American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology, 28 Sept. 2020,,out%20a%20true%20food%20allergy.


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