With Valentine's Day just around the corner, couples and singles are preparing to celebrate with fine dining, candies, flowers, and other enjoyable staples of the romantic holiday. However, with the special occasion comes hidden allergy risks associated with non-routine foods, materials, and activities. As you plan this special day, don't let allergies come between you and your valentine.
For many, a candlelit dinner with wine and champagne is an indispensable part of Valentine's Day. However, some wines and champagnes contain sulfites, which can trigger an allergic reaction. Sulfites have been known to worsen asthma along with trigger hives, sneezing, and even throat swelling.
In addition, wines may also contain histamine, the chemical compound that initiates an allergic reaction. Histamine is normally sequestered by immune cells in the body and released when triggered by an allergen, causing a reaction. However, histamine can also be a normal byproduct of the fermentation process, and all fermented foods -- wine, beer, kimchi, kombucha, miso, etc. -- contain some trace of histamine. Usually, these traces are very low. Wine, however, can contain a significant amount -- up to 4 mg per serving -- of the chemical.
Chocolate is a classic and delicious gift for a loved one. While a true chocolate allergy is rare, it is more likely to react to another ingredient in the final product. Chocolate contains many hidden allergens:
• Peanuts and tree nuts.
• Wheat and gluten: Filled chocolates often use flour or wheat starch as a binder. Crisp rice can be also problematic.
• Berries are common allergenic fruits. Even if the piece of chocolate you are eating doesn't contain a berry, cross contamination is still possible if there are chocolates with berries in the box.
Even if the food you eat doesn't explicitly contain an allergen, there can be hidden ingredients and cross-contaminations that trigger a reaction. Some commonly hidden allergens are:
• Seafood and shellfish. For example, anchovies can be found in Caesar salads and some pasta dishes. Sambals can also contain fish or dried shrimp.
• Nuts can be used as thickeners in chili and can also be found in some barbeque sauces. Cross-contamination with nut allergens is common in ice cream shops and at some Asian food restaurants.
• Milk and eggs.
At the restaurant
• Speak with your waiter and ask him or her repeat your allergies or food requests so you can be sure that the important information has been communicated.
• Be sure to let your bartender know about any potential allergies as well. New York City is famous for fancy cocktails with a variety of common and special components.
• Make sure what arrives at your table is what you ordered and how you ordered it, especially if it is served by someone other than your waiter.
Gifts, Products, & Activities
Flowers and Scents
Perfumes, colognes, and scented products (e.g., candles, bath and beauty items, lingerie, teddy bears, etc.) are common Valentine's Day gifts, but they may trigger reactions or asthma attacks in those who are sensitive.
Flowers can cause sneezing, runny nose, and even headaches. Usually, the reaction is not caused by flower pollen but by the fragrance which can trigger irritation. This is especially common with roses, gardenias, lilies, and eucalyptus. To minimize risk of irritation, buy your partner a mild or minimally scented flower.
Many people develop itching and a rash to nickel-containing products. Jewelry that is gold or silver plated may also contain nickel. So when buying jewelry for you sweetheart, make sure they are not nickel-allergic and take care to read all labels carefully.
Did you know that even kissing can trigger an allergic reaction? Trace food protein containing allergens can linger in your partner's saliva for hours and can trigger severe and even fatal reactions. Symptoms can include lip-swelling, throat-swelling, rash, itching, shortness of breath, and/or wheezing.
Make-up & Skin Products
If you don't regularly wear makeup and decide to re-vamp your look for your valentine, keep the following points in mind to avoid an irritating or even dangerous allergic reaction on the special day:
• Keep your makeup fresh: keeping items longer than recommend can provide a breeding ground for bacteria.
• Wash your hands before applying makeup and avoid storing cosmetics in places that are above 85 degrees.
• Fragrances and preservatives are the most common chemicals that cause reactions so look for fragrance free or perfume free products.
• Massage oils, perfumes, lotions, shaving cream (especially if they are new products and contain fragrance and preservatives) can cause reactions if you have sensitive skin.
Valentine's Day is a special occasion to celebrate your love with fun and romantic activities. Don't let allergens interfere with the festivities. With a little research and care, you can enjoy a safe, fun and allergy-free Valentine's Day.