Health

Forging Ahead with Food Allergies

For the president of Food Allergy Partners, a scary diagnosis led to a new career path.

When Meg Nohe’s daughter was diagnosed with severe food allergies at a year-and-a-half-old, it came as a shock.

“It was frightening at first,” Nohe says. “With a lot of things in life, you get this diagnosis and you have to immediately understand the things you need to do to keep them safe, but you’re not really allowed ramp-up time.”

Every free minute outside of work and being with her child was spent doing research so she could try to understand how to protect her daughter, who was diagnosed with peanut and tree nut allergies.

“I quickly realized that our practitioner was great at helping us manage the medical side of it,” Nohe says, “but there was no one really who operated in a role to help you understand how to ramp up quickly and live day to day—the non-clinical side of it, which is pretty much most of your life outside of the doctor’s office.”

Nohe now fills that role herself. As the president of Food Allergy Partners, she helps families and individuals as well as schools, restaurants and commercial kitchens learn how to navigate food allergies and intolerances. Nohe, who worked in the healthcare industry in marketing and sales positions for years, became a certified food allergy coach and created Food Allergy Partners last fall.

Food Allergy Partners President Meg Nohe

Clients get the benefit of her training as well as her personal experience dealing with food allergies. Nohe makes a point of covering all of the things she spent a year trying to understand on her own within the first few weeks with clients. She also works with individuals to deliver customized sessions that address their concerns, whether it means understanding labeling laws for food, planning meals, dining out at restaurants or what to travel with in case of an emergency.

Additionally, Food Allergy Partners provides services to restaurants and kitchens interested in better accommodating patrons and schools trying to keep students safe as a growing number of Americans are diagnosed with food allergies.

Cases among children increased by 50 percent between 1997 and 2011, according to a study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but food allergies can develop at any time in life, Nohe notes.

Although there’s no consensus on what’s behind the rising numbers, they make it more important than ever to be aware of symptoms and risks—chances are, even if you’re not personally diagnosed, you know somebody who does suffer from food allergies.

Ninety percent of serious allergic reactions are caused by peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, eggs, milk and soy. Nohe says sesame seeds, mustard seeds and corn are also common in the U.S. And while most people have a set idea of how an allergic reaction presents itself, there are actually a variety of ways it can manifest, including as a headache or other central nervous system issue as well as cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrointestinal or skin problems. Responses can range from mild to potentially deadly.

“The type of exposure and the type of reaction that happens can be different every time,” Nohe says. “That’s one of the scary things about allergies.”

It’s why her approach emphasizes recognizing potentially triggering situations and knowing how to work around them.

“Yes, we talk about what happens in an emergency, but a lot of what I do is ‘Here are all the things you need to know and prepare on the front end so you don’t have to get to that point,’” she says

So far the technique has worked well for her family. In the two years since Nohe’s daughter was diagnosed, she hasn’t had a reaction, and Nohe’s new career path is an unexpected silver lining.

“I have been lucky that I’ve really had great jobs and worked for some great people, and I’ve always been passionate about healthcare, but I’ve never been super excited to wake up every day and say, ‘This is what I get to do,’” she explains. “Every day is so exciting.”