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Are Food Allergies a Disability? All You Need to Know

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What is a Food Allergy | Food Allergies & the Americans with Disabilities Act | How Can Employers Accommodate a Worker with a Food Allergy | Food Allergy Management in the Schools | Does Intermittent Fasting Help Improve Symptoms of Food Allergy

Food allergies are unusual autoimmune responses in which the body reacts abnormally to the harmless proteins in some foods. Food allergies can range from mild to severe responses depending on the duration and intensity. But are food allergies a disability?

While mild allergies such as a skin rash or tingling sensation in the mouth may go away within a few minutes, severe allergies such as severe swelling in the throat making it difficult to breathe can persist up to hours or sometimes for days. Sometimes, an extreme allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis can be life-threatening.

What Exactly is a Food Allergy?

A food allergy is a reaction of the body’s immune system when it recognizes any particular food item to be harmful. So when the person is exposed to that particular food, the immune system releases gross volumes of chemicals as a defense mechanism of the body. These chemicals produce a series of allergic symptoms including affecting the functions of the gastrointestinal system, respiratory system, cardiovascular system, or skin.

Symptoms of allergy may range from itching skin, skin rash, tingling sensation in the mouth, swelling of the throat, hives, abdominal cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, drop in blood pressure levels, loss of consciousness, and sometimes death. If a person is allergic to certain food, the symptoms usually manifest within a few minutes to two hours of eating the food.

Although any food can cause allergy in any individual, some most common foods that account for allergic reactions include soy, milk, egg, peanuts, tree nuts, seafood, and wheat. Since there are no medications to cure food allergies, strict avoidance is the only way to eliminate the chance of getting allergic reactions.

Are Food Allergies a Disability?

Food Allergies and the Americans with Disabilities Act: Are food allergies a disability?

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) has been formulated to make sure that individuals with disabilities are not discriminated against, isolated or segregated because of their disabilities. Even though some courts have not been so keen to grant ADA protection to individuals with food allergies, the U.S. Department of Justice has agreed that autoimmune disorders like celiac disease and severe food allergies can be reckoned as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

ADA defines disability as a physical or mental impairment that considerably restricts one or more major life activities of a person which includes and not limited to major bodily functions such as eating, breathing, affecting your heart and circulatory system, digestive system, respiratory system, and many more. All these life activities can be at risk if a person has any kind of life-threatening food allergy.

Under the ADA, it is compulsory for all “places of public accommodation” to make reasonable accommodations and ensure that individuals with disabilities get equal access to them. Any places that are not religious institutions and allow the public to attend are called public accommodations.

These places may include restaurants, theatres, schools, hotels, zoos, water parks, spas, museums, stores, etc. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act 1973 says that organizations that get federal funding cannot discriminate against people based on their disability in regard to education and jobs.

Under the ADA, public accommodation places have to arrange reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities to have full and equal access unless it puts an unnecessary burden or originally changes the nature of goods and services offered.

If you have a severe food allergy, a reasonable accommodation would usually allow you to bring in outside food. For example, if you have a party at a venue that does not allow outside food inside, but all the foods available there are unsafe for you to eat, the venue would not be able to justify why would bringing in your safe foods be an undue burden or why would it affect the fundamental nature of goods they offer.

Many places that offer food try to justify their policy of forbidding outside food by testifying that it is a health code violation or a food safety concern. Although that may be genuine, federal law can supersede state and local laws. The ADA requires that people with severe allergies should be given reasonable accommodations and the ADA can override the local health code requirements.

Are Food Allergies a Disability?

How Can Employers Accommodate a Worker with a Food Allergy?

The employer has to provide reasonable accommodation to the employee if the employee has food allergies. However, the same depends on various factors including the nature and degree of food allergy, the food items, and the work environment.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states that an employer may ask for documentation to validate the actuality of a disability protected by the ADA if this is not apparent. However, once confirmed, the employer should arrange for an interactive process to know what kind of accommodations are required.

According to the Job Accommodation Network, some general accommodations can be regulated to make the workplace safe for an employee having a food allergy. These may include:

  • Executing a rule of restricting allergic food items in the workplace
  • Placing signs at the workplace entrances
  • Sending notices to the employees who have consumed the food to make sure to inform their colleagues about the same when they come to the office so that they can avoid accidental exposure
  • Ensuring strict adherence to the policy and warning them about the consistent consequences for violation

Other possible accommodations that can be made by an employer include:

  • Allowing an employee having food allergy to sit at the desk and eat his or her own comfort food and keeping away from the food that others are eating.
  • Arranging suitable travel and hotel accommodations in case business travel is required.
  • Giving work-from-home options to manage their food allergies properly
Are Food Allergies a Disability?

Food Allergy Management in the School Setting

Around 5.6 million children in the United States suffer from food allergies. Considering this factor, many public schools have already started implementing processes to manage this medical condition. However, each child’s needs are different.

Hence, proper planning and partnering with school staff can help create a healthy environment for your child. You may follow these steps as a guide to work with your child’s school.

1.  Become Informed and Educated

If your child has a food allergy, it is essential for you to know what foods must be avoided by your child. What are the symptoms of an allergic reaction?

2. Team up with Your Child’s School to Manage Their Food Allergy

Take the initiative by contacting the school and discussing your child’s food allergies in writing. Meet with the school staff such as the school nurse, the teacher, or sometimes the principal to plan for the process.

3. Prepare and Provide Information about Your Child’s Food Allergy and Medication

Providing details about your child’s food allergy and medications to the school is important. This must include a comprehensive list of foods to which your child is allergic.

You should also inform them about the possible allergic reactions of your child, what course of treatment should be administered under what circumstances, and your child’s other medical records. Additionally, you should provide the contact details of medical emergency services, your child’s allergist, and you.

4. Reducing Exposure Risk through Environmental Controls

Keeping the students having food allergies away from exposure to allergens is the most effective method to avoid the risk of anaphylaxis. Food allergy management basically depends on strict avoidance of food allergens, recognizing the symptoms as fast as possible, and giving treatment immediately when an allergic reaction occurs due to unintentional food exposure.

Dietary management in schools can be challenging because of the presence of allergens in classroom activities including arts and crafts, science projects, celebration events, parties, cooking, food sharing, etc. To ensure the safety of the students schools should have administrative rules and policies on a district level, campus level, classroom level, or even at an individual level to explain how to deal with students having food allergies who are at the risk of getting anaphylactic shock.

It should be considered to promote safety in the following areas including but not limited to classrooms, cafeterias, common areas of the school, during field trips, athletic events, on and off campus, etc.

Educators can help children by teaching them about the signs of food allergy and food intolerance. They can also provide honest feedback about the child’s food allergies to the caregivers and parents.

It is essential to check the labels on the ingredients and manage the potential cross-contact allergies. Taking preventive measures to avoid certain possible allergies such as peanut allergy and other food intolerance in children is also vital.

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Does Intermittent Fasting Help Improve Symptoms of Food Allergy?

Intermittent fasting is a strategic meal plan that alternates between periods of fasting and eating. It entails fasting for a pre-set period of time of the day called the fasting window and then followed by eating for the rest of the day. During the eating window, you can consume any food of your choice as intermittent fasting does not emphasize on what and how much to eat, rather it focuses on when to eat.

Intermittent fasting has several health benefits including enhanced immunity, improved metabolism, reduced insulin and blood sugar levels, increased insulin resistance, better heart health by ensuring reduced blood pressure, triglyceride, and cholesterol levels, increased autophagy, longevity, reduced inflammation, and so on.

To know more about intermittent fasting read “A Complete Guide To Intermittent Fasting & Schedule”.

A deficiency in the variety of gut microbiota may lead to the pathogenesis of food allergy because it controls the IgE production of B cells. Intermittent fasting can help alleviate the symptoms of food allergy by regulating glucose metabolism, improving Immunological memory (which responds more quickly and effectively to pathogens), and augmenting the gut microbiota.


So, are food allergies a disability?

Food allergies qualify as a disability in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This implies you cannot be treated unfairly because of your allergies in your employment, places of public accommodations, schools, and some other settings. Additionally, you will be given necessary accommodations to ensure your safety despite your allergic conditions.

With regard to availing of disability benefits, it is challenging for people with food allergies to qualify under the Social Security Disability. However if you can establish it with evidence about your physical impairment and inability to work due to the limitations induced by your allergies, you may be entitled to the benefits.

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