Although they are usually mild, allergic reactions account for 50% of treatments in hospital A&E wards, says the Spanish Allergology and Immunology Society (SEAIC).
This number does not increase at Christmas but the number of undiagnosed cases does. “We mustn’t drop our guard at this time of year,” warns Carolina Pérez Iglesias, nutrition specialist at Hospital Quirónsalud Torrevieja.
This is because people usually eat more allergenic products that are in typical Christmas foods, and because children try them for the first time. Also at this time of year family and work dinners are more common, and 7 out of 10 serious allergic reactions happen when eating away from home.
The specialist noted most effects happen within 30 minutes after eating, and symptoms range from oral itching to anaphylactic shock, which can be fatal if not treated. The seriousness varies according to the amount of allergen eaten, the sensitivity of the person and external factors like asthma, physical exercise, or consumption of painkillers or alcohol.
“The only proven treatment is elimination of the food causing the reaction from the diet,” added Iglesias. For serious reactions it is advisable to have a kit with self-injectable adrenalin, oral corticosteroids and oral antihistamine.
Dr Sergio Negre, a specialist in paediatric gastroenterology at Hospital Quirónsalud Valencia said the foods that cause the most allergic reactions are nuts, fruit not usually eaten at other times of year, and shellfish.
“In children the order of prevalence is cows’ milk, egg, fish, vegetables, fruit and nuts. Above all be careful with Christmas sweets like turrón (nougat) or marzipan as they have hidden ingredients,” he warned. Anyone with an allergy should always carefully check the ingredients of any food.