How to recognise anaphylactic shock and how to prevent it

Living in FearSeveral people in the UK have allergies – to dust mites, to animal hair, to certain medicines, to insect stings or bites etc. and, of course, to certain foods. In fact, according to NHS statistics, over 20,000 patients are treated in English hospitals for allergic reactions every year. Sadly some severe reactions can prove fatal if medical intervention does not occur in time.

We, the public, could help to save the life of somebody having an anaphylactic shock by being able to recognise the symptoms and knowing how to give an injection of adrenaline. Unfortunately a survey by Allergy UK found that out of over 2000 people surveyed, 44% didn’t know what anaphylaxis is and 60% didn’t know how to use an EpiPen.

Last week was Allergy Awareness Week and the main point on the agenda is to education. Rather like the highly successful ‘FACE’ TV campaign telling people how to recognise symptoms of a stroke, Allergy UK wants us all to ‘Recognise the symptoms. Recognise the FEAR’ of anaphylaxis. Here’s how:

F    FACE – is their face/are their lips swollen? Have they gone pale? Are they lightheaded?

E    EYES – is there a look of fear in their eyes? Are they red, watery and puffy?

A    AIRWAVES – are they wheezing/uncontrollably coughing? Do they have a shortness of breath? Are they unable to talk? Are they making a strange sound?

R    RASH – is there a red, raised, itchy rash anywhere on their body, especially their face or neck?

What to do?

If you can see a combination of the above symptoms, then you need to administer adrenaline. People at risk of anaphylaxis will carry a couple of EpiPens (adrenaline shots) on their person. You need to give them adrenaline by jabbing the EpiPen directly into their outer upper thigh and depressing the syringe. There is no need to try to locate a vein.

The next thing you should do is call 999. If the symptoms haven’t improved after 5 minutes, administer a second dose of adrenaline to the other outer thigh. Being able to do this could mean the difference between life and death for some allergy sufferers.

 How getting labelling right can help save lives

Of course, the most effective way of preventing anaphylactic shock is to avoid any triggers. This means that as a food or drink provider we need to let consumers know exactly what our products contain, whether it is pre-packaged, sold loose, served in a restaurant, cafe, canteen, fast food outlet, from a stall or anywhere else. This became mandatory in December 2014 under the EU Food Information to Consumers Regulation and failure to comply can lead to action being taken by enforcement officers.

The new labelling regulation stipulates that any of the main allergens contained in your product or used as a processing aid or enzyme during the production process must be declared. For pre-packaged goods the allergens must appear separately within the ingredients list and be highlighted in bold lettering, even if the same allergen appears more than once. E.g. Skimmed milk concentrate, sunflower oil, whey powder (milk).

There are 14 main allergens which have been identified as likely to cause a severe allergic reaction if ingested by susceptible persons. These are cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, eggs, fish, peanuts, soybeans, milk, nuts, celery, mustard, sesame, sulphur dioxides or sulphites, molluscs and lupin.  In instances where the allergen isn’t used in a particular product, but there is a risk of cross-contamination from other allergen-containing products, you may still highlight this fact on the labelling with messages such as ‘may contain nuts.’

Make sure your labelling’s legal – ask Gill

Verner Wheelock’s can provide training or consultancy that will guide you through the new legislation, including what you can and can’t say, how claims can be substantiated, what you must declare, nutritional and allergy information, ingredients and how and where information must be presented. For information, please visit our ‘Specialist Training Courses’ section on the Verner Wheelock website, where you’ll also find our popular ‘Managing Food Allergens’ course.

Additonally, if you happen to live close to Yorkshire, why not pop along and see one of our Labelling experts, Gill Eames, at the Deliciouslyorkshire @Fine Food Harrogate event on 21st – 22nd June at the Great Yorkshire Showground, Harrogate? Gill will be there on 21st June and will be able to help you with any queries you might have and can check your own labels to ensure they are compliant with the new ways in which allergen information needs to be presented.

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