Just being around food can provoke anxiety in those living with food allergies, but this fear may be reduced or alleviated by a type of food challenge. A traditional food challenge is a test used to confirm an allergy diagnosis. Children are given small but increasing amounts of a suspected food while being monitored by medical professionals for a reaction.

This type of challenge, also monitored by medical professionals, is called a proximity food challenge. As outlined in an Annals of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAI) article, this challenge reveals that most children can be near their allergenic foods without worry.

The Food Proximity Challenge

A proximity challenge puts kids in a room with the foods they are allergic to. The children breathe in the air and even have the offending food placed on their skin. “Kids see for themselves it is safe to be near their food allergen as long as they don’t eat it or get it into their eyes, nose, or scraped skin,” says allergist Chitra Dinakar, M.D., and lead AAAI article author. “It’s a great relief.”

The fear of proximity to allergens causes some individuals and families to restrict social activity or limit travel. However, while there is a very small percentage of people who react to allergen vapor, dust, or skin contact the presence of an allergenic food is not a danger for most allergic individuals.

Knowing that you or your child can tolerate casual exposure to problematic foods may relieve some of the inherent anxiety of managing a food allergy. Dr. Dinakar suggests people discuss proximity food challenges with their allergist. Since it is only a one-hour procedure the cost may not be prohibitive, and the anxiety relief it provides could be priceless.

Freedom and Confidence

According to allergist Jay Portnoy, M.D., an AAAI article coauthor, dozens of proximity challenges have been completed, with only one child suffering a small hive reaction. “Most kids are initially scared, but when they don’t have a reaction, their fears are eased, and they have a new sense of freedom. They have more confidence in being a part of their community.”

Since dealing with a food allergy is a family affair, the freedom and confidence a proximity challenge affords the allergic child will likely be enjoyed by all family members. Though food labels still have to be scrutinized, and auto-injectors carried a proximity challenge could make the world of food seem a little less dangerous for all involved.

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