Published: June 26, 2011
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but consuming products made of wheat will give me an intolerable migraine. I used to receive bewildered looks from people, whenever I tried explaining my gluten intolerance. Today when there is much awareness of food allergies, I am very surprised by the attitude towards them in Pakistan. Having an allergy is like having a nakhra; it’s deemed completely unnecessary.
Most people in Pakistan don’t even know that some of the most basic food items – wheat, milk, eggs, peanuts, soy, tree nuts and fish – can actually trigger often deadly allergic reactions. These food substances attack the body’s immune system, which defends against potentially harmful substances, such as bacteria and viruses. According to a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics, one in 12 children in the United States may have a food allergy, with more than a third of them having severe allergies. Apparently food allergies are becoming more common globally.
Dr Javeria Siddiqi, a house officer at Jinnah Medical College Hospital is allergic to coffee, cheese, cabbage, and tree nuts. “People are not aware of such allergies. I only realised I had food allergies because I had migraines and severe stomach aches when I consumed these items,” she said. Siddiqi is not satisfied with the labelling of food items in Pakistan, intended to inform about the ingredients used in these products. “There are a lot of labelling conflicts, especially regarding the preservatives that are used. Many people are allergic to the chemicals in preservatives. There is also the chance of cross contamination in factories since they do not have separate facilities for allergen-free products.”
Aisha Zubair, a second year medical student who is lactose intolerant, lamented the lack of availability of products tailored for people with allergies. “People think food allergies are all a drama. It is really hard for me to find soy milk products here.” Despite this statement, she is thankful for the abundance of food Pakistan has to offer, which makes up for the few things she cannot eat due to her allergy.
Five-year-old Rayan Hamad faces a similar problem. He is allergic to wheat, eggs, casein and lactose, and has severe problems when he comes to Pakistan for holidays. Originally based in Abu Dhabi, Hamad’s mother goes through a lot of trouble during their summer holidays in Karachi. “It is very difficult to find imported allergen-free products here. I rarely find them in grocery stores. Another problem is that people are not informed about the consequences and seriousness of such allergies,” she said.
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