Allergic reactions in residents of Aged Care Homes – Why the big concern?

Allergies are on the rise and they can be fatal. 4 million Australians are affected by allergies and it is one of the fastest growing illnesses. Allergic reactions are increasing in their complexity and severity. Over the past 3 years there has been a 5 fold increase in hospital admissions due to anaphylaxis (whole body allergic reactions). Of these hospitalisations the 55 to 74 year old age group are seen to suffer a higher degree of fatal anaphylactic reactions. Their causes: food, medication and unspecific.
The key allergens to be aware of are: Peanut, Tree nuts, Sesame, Wheat, Soy, Milk, Eggs, Fish and Shellfish.

What happens in an Allergic reaction?

An allergic reaction occurs when someone develops symptoms following exposure to an allergen (food, medication, insect bite). These symptoms may be hives, swelling of the lips, eyes or face, vomiting or wheeze.
Only some people with allergy antibodies will develop symptoms following exposure to the allergen, hence confirmation of allergy by an allergy specialist is required. Allergic reactions can range from mild to severe. Anaphylaxis is the most severe form of allergic reaction.

The confusion

The term allergy is often misused to describe any adverse reaction to foods which results in annoying (but ultimately harmless) symptoms such as headaches after overindulging in chocolate or red wine, or bloating after drinking a milkshake or eating too much pasta. While these reactions are not allergic, the result is a widespread impression that all adverse reactions to foods are trivial. This is far from the truth! Even though true allergies affect a small percentage of the population they need to be taken very seriously!

Adverse reactions to foods that are not allergic include food intolerances, toxic reactions, food poisoning, enzyme deficiencies, food aversion or irritation from skin contact with certain foods. These adverse reactions are often mistaken for food allergy by the patient (our residents) or family members, staff and other residents. It is a challenging task to navigate the food requirements for a nutritious menu, providing residents what they like, ensuring food safety and now allergy safety.

The task ahead

Allergy safety is essential in Aged Care. Allergies are on the rise and true allergies can be fatal.
Our task as food providers and carers is to provide meals that are nutritious, appropriate and safe to eat. Safe to eat means not only hygienic safety as is the current focus of many food safety plans but also allergy safe. Any resident with a true allergy must be given meals, snacks and drinks that are allergy safe.
This means having:

  • A clear documented communication system to ensure the correct meal reaches the resident
  • Eliminating cross contamination in food preparation and serving food (the smallest amount of allergen can cause a reaction)
  • Checking food products that have several ingredients, these change!
  • Strong safety procedures for allergic residents
  • Education on allergies to upskill all staff on correct processes
  • Embedding allergy safety into the Food safety plan

Where to now?

The National Allergy Strategy Australia website can provide you with a wealth of information on allergies and how to best respond. www.allergy.org.au

Leading Nutrition Dietitians can support you by interpreting this information and creating a specific plan to ensure your home is allergy safe. So if you have any concerns you are welcome to give us a call to discuss on 1300 722 712.