New online tool helps shine light on food allergy concerns
The free Allergy Check website lets users enter various symptoms and provides them with information about potential causes.
Published Wednesday, May 1, 2019 9:01AM EDT
People worried that they or their children might be suffering from an undiagnosed food allergy have a new tool to help them figure out if they should see a specialist
The free Allergy Check website lets users enter various symptoms and provides them with information about potential causes, including whether further advice should be sought from an allergist -- all in just a few clicks. It also offers general resources around food allergies.
The site was created jointly by teams at the University of British Columbia and the BC Children’s Hospital, with support from Food Allergy Canada and the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
It was conceived in part as a way to help people tell the difference between an allergy and a food intolerance before making a potentially unnecessary visit to a doctor.
“There’s so much information and misinformation that’s out there,” Jennifer Gerdts, executive director of Food Allergy Canada, told CTVNews.ca.
“Being able to access credible sources of information to understand the condition of food allergy, and understand what you need to do to stay safe -- we see that as being a real important aspect of this tool.”
There is already a lot of material about food allergies on the internet, but the team behind Allergy Check contends that doctors are finding patients showing up with inaccurate information they have found online.
By putting the weight of recognizable institutions behind their program, they hope to offer a reliable and safe way of teaching people about which symptoms do and do not suggest possible allergies.
Janey Yu hopes the website will help other mothers avoid going through what her family did. When her 18-month-old son Caleb suddenly fell ill at a birthday party, Yu and her husband made a lengthy drive to the BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver rather than taking Caleb to the nearest emergency room.
“It did not occur to us in our wildest dreams that it was a food allergy symptom, [or] how severe it was,” Yu told CTVNews.ca.
Caleb was eventually diagnosed with a nut allergy, but only after a year-long wait to see an allergist. Such delays are common, in part because of a low number of available doctors. According to the Canadian Medical Association, there were 204 active allergists and clinical immunologists in the country as of 2018.
With roughly one medical allergy professional for every 180,000 people in the country, many patients find themselves on wait lists -- leaving themselves having to take all the precautions they would take if they had an allergy, without knowing for sure if they have one.
“Imagine thinking you have a food allergy, and not, and living with that burden,” Gerdts said.
“[Allergy Check] can help you clarify that. It’s good for those with a likely food allergy to get access to the information that can help them to stay safe … but those who actually have an intolerance, it can make them breathe a little bit easier because they have reassurance that this is not a life-threatening situation they’re dealing with.”
When Yu had a daughter shortly after Caleb’s diagnosis, she watched carefully for signs of potential allergic reactions. She also exposed her newest child to nuts at a young age, hoping that could help prevent allergies.
Had she had the same knowledge when Caleb was born -- or had a reliable source for information such as Allergy Check -- she suspects her son’s situation might have unfolded differently.
“It’s so important to have these tools, especially for new parents,” she said.