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Hospital Stays and Food Allergy Management

Introduction

An admission to hospital can be a confusing and frightening experience. This help sheet has been developed to assist you in preparing for this process, in particular for the management of your food allergy. Managing food allergies can be difficult, especially when a person has multiple food allergies or severe reactions to foods. Don’t assume that hospitals are any better at catering for severe food allergies than any other food provider. Despite the increase in allergies, many hospitals may not have robust processes in place for providing appropriate foods to patients with food allergy. It is important to remain ever vigilant with all foods consumed, even when in hospital. Ask about content of every meal or snack if the food is not packaged and you cannot read content for yourself.

Reason for hospital admission

There are two types of hospital admission; emergency or elective: An emergency admission occurs through the Emergency Department of a hospital. In this case you may arrive via ambulance, or you may attend as a result of an ‘emergency’ situation (e.g. injury, sudden serious illness). This situation does not necessarily allow for planning or preparation at the time, but you can plan for this ahead of time to assist you (e.g. have a list of/packaged food that is appropriate ready just in case, have a trusted family member bring food in each day). If you have severe food allergies/anaphylaxis your visit may be as a result of a reaction or unrelated. Either way this can often involve several hours in hospital, waiting and being treated. It is likely at some point you will need to eat or drink.

An elective admission or direct admission is planned ahead of time and will occur via an admissions department rather than though an emergency department. This usually occurs at a more convenient time and may allow for a planned/prepared approach. It may involve just a day procedure or could involve a longer stay, so you should take the opportunity to think ahead and plan how to manage your needs during your stay.

Whatever the reason for your hospital admission, if you have a food allergy you should have a coloured (usually red) wristband placed on your arm/leg. If the allergy alert band lists your food allergens, make sure the wording is correct. Many hospitals also identify the patient as having an allergy by way of a bed card placed above their bed. When being admitted, ask how the hospital identifies patients with food allergy and check that the protocol is carried out and that information communicated is correct.

Things to consider

What is your normal routine for managing your food allergies? Just as you would plan for a holiday or your regular day at school or work, it is important to plan for a potential trip to hospital. Food allergy management can be complex and involved and it is important to prepare as thoroughly as you would for any other eating out experience.

Communicate: If you know you or your child will be requiring a hospital admission there is time to do preparations. Contact the hospital ahead of time (as you would a restaurant or child care facility). Explain what food restrictions are required and find out if the menu can accommodate these needs. Find out how much, if any notice they will need to be able to provide safe meals. Ask questions. How will they prepare, label, package and deliver the food? Where is it prepared? How do medical staff communicate your food allergies to the catering staff? Do they have paperwork that you can fill in ahead of time to advise exactly what the restrictions are? Do they have sample menus? Do they list all the ingredients? How will your food be delivered/packaged so that you can check it? The answers to these questions will help you make an informed decision whether you can be catered for safely.

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Content updated August 2016

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