Aside from spending time with family, food takes centre stage in many Chinese New Year celebrations, with many of the dishes served around the table holding symbolic meanings such as luck, prosperity, happiness, and togetherness. However, it’s important to know that many of these dishes contain multiple of the top 14 allergens, including egg, sesame, peanuts, fish, shellfish, soy, cereals containing gluten and wheat, and celery. In addition, food-based oils, including nuts, sesame, fish and soy, are commonly used in oriental cuisine, so be cautious with anything you eat/drink/put in your mouth. If in doubt, don’t risk it.
If you are heading out in the celebrations, make sure to:
- Communicate allergies in advance when eating out at a restaurant and double-check when ordering and again before eating. Good communication is vital.
- The restaurant may serve food you can eat, but cross-contamination risks could be exceedingly high.
- Be aware that alcohol can contain allergens and also affect your judgement.
- If you have severe allergies, always know where your two Adrenaline Auto-Injectors (AAIs) are and remember to take them with you. It would be best if at least one person you are eating with is aware of your allergies, how best to support you and how to use your AAI.
- If at any time, when speaking to a staff member about your allergy, you are worried by their response or lack of understanding about allergies, it may be safer to leave or decide not to eat.
Celebrating at home
If you feel that eating out at a restaurant during Chinese New Year feels too risky for your family, especially as many of the traditional dishes may contain many allergens. How about celebrating at home?
An essential part of the Chinese New Year is connecting with family. The Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner, called ‘reunion dinner’, is where families sit around a round table, enjoy food, and spend time together. If you are a family living with food allergies, there are still ways of joining in on the celebrations in the safety of your home, and this allows the whole family to get creative in the kitchen.
If you are hosting a guest with food allergies:
For guests with food allergies, worrying that their condition will not be taken into consideration often stops them from joining social events. However, if you are hosting, a few simple steps can help those with food allergies feel safer and included without impacting the needs of other guests.
- Check in advance about any allergies and take on board any extra information your guest may share around their allergy. If a food needs to be avoided entirely, please believe them when they tell you! Even a tiny amount of a food someone is allergic to can have serious consequences.
- When planning what food to serve, it is better to eliminate the food from everything that is being served altogether. Alternatively, a selection of different dish choices which eliminate the allergen is more inclusive than creating a bespoke dish exclusively for the guest with allergies. This also reduces potential cross-contamination risks when preparing dishes for other guests.
- If eliminating the allergen is too tricky, share your planned menu with the guest in advance. In this way, the guest has an option of seeking out similar free-from foods to what is being served and bring their own plate of safe foods with them.
- Think about the drinks you serve too. Those which have been homemade, such as punches and homemade cocktails (virgin or otherwise), are at higher risk. Safer to go for pre-mixed drinks and, if possible, single portion sizes too.
- Keep the packaging of any prebought foods that are being served so the guest (or, in the case of a child, the parent) can check the labelling.
- Have a conversation with the guest before the gathering to understand their allergy needs, emergency medication, how to administer medications and contact details in the event of an emergency. Please do not do it on the day of the gathering/meal when you are more likely to be busy and distracted. It may help to write down the information or invite your guest to provide it in a written format for you.
If you are at risk of anaphylaxis and carry an AAI, make sure that everyone you are with is aware of this and knows where your AAI is. It’s important they also know what to do in the case of an emergency.
If you suspect someone is having a severe allergic reaction:
- If the person carries adrenaline auto-injectors (EpiPen, Jext, Emerade), give the adrenaline as directed on the device without delay.
- Call an ambulance immediately (999). The controller must be told that the patient has anaphylaxis (pronounced ana-fur-laxis)
- Keep the patient lying down and stay with them. Don’t let them stand up or walk; where possible, raise their feet up.
- If they have not recovered in five minutes, give a second adrenaline injection, if available.
- Even if the patient recovers quickly, wait for the ambulance, they must still go to hospital for observation in case of delayed or repeated reactions.
- If the patient has a blue asthma inhaler, they should use it AFTER the injection to prevent delay in giving lifesaving medication.
Fireworks and cold air can irritate the airways and trigger asthma symptoms.
- Good asthma control starts with taking your asthma medication correctly, following your personal asthma plan and ensuring you are happy with your asthma management before attending an event that may expose you to irritants or triggers.
- Remember to have your inhalers/medication with you at all times.
- Consider wearing a scarf or face mask to warm up the air and prevent you from breathing in cold air that can irritate the airways.
- If you feel your breathing may be affected, consider leaving the event before the firework display begins or watch from a nearby restaurant/bar/house window. Remember, the smoke will not disperse immediately after, so you may need to wait a few hours for the air to clear.
If you’re at home and concerned about firework smoke entering the house, keep windows and vents closed for the duration of the display and for a few hours after it ends.
Celebrating outdoors in the cold weather can be tough on your skin if you’re living with an allergic skin condition. Keep in mind these tips to avoid a winter flare-up:
- Cover skin which is affected to protect it from the cold air
- Wearing gloves can protect your hands if they’re affected by eczema, but they can also help prevent you from scratching other areas that are affected which can’t be covered, i.e., your face.
- Take your emollients with you and apply them regularly throughout the day.
- Wear natural fabrics against your skin, i.e., cotton, silk, and cashmere.
- Try to avoid perfume or fragranced products if they irritate your skin.
- Soap can be very drying and irritate the skin. Consider taking a travel-size soap substitute with you for washing your hands when you are out.
- Pat skin dry rather than rubbing.
- When at home, keep baths and showers warm but not too hot. Use a soap substitute or shower emollient. Remember to limit the time in the bath or shower to a maximum of 10 – 20 minutes. After bathing, remember to apply your emollient; this helps to trap moisture and prevent dryness of the skin.