IT'S one of those brilliantly simple ideas that make you think: "Wow, I wish I'd thought of that!" Allergy FT Food Translator is a new phone app created for people with allergies who are travelling overseas.
It allows users to create a personal profile for themselves (or a family member or friend) listing one or more of the 62 different allergies included under categories such as eggs, dairy, nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, or wheat.
The app, which costs $US2.99, allows the user to translate their allergy into a written warning in French, German or Spanish. It reads: "WARNING! I have a severe food allergy and must avoid all foods that contain these ingredients. THANK YOU for your cooperation."
Show the phone to the waiter and he or she can then tell you which dishes to avoid.
The Allergy FT is the brainchild of Gregg Greenberg, a marketing executive for a software company who hails from the US state of Utah. He conceived the idea in a restaurant in Madrid last year.
"I thought, there should be an app for that..."
"I have food allergies to shellfish like crab and lobster, as well as shrimp," Mr Greenberg told Travelvax Australia.
"I often travel to Europe on business and while in Madrid last year my wife called me while I was in a restaurant. She reminded me to be careful about what I ordered because quite a few of the dishes contain seafood.
"It struck me that there should be a phone app to help someone in my situation who doesn't speak the local language. So, when I got home, I started developing Allergy FT."
The app costs $US2.99 and the reaction worldwide has been 'really positive', Mr Greenberg said.
Everything is built into the app: Users don't need internet access.
"When you're travelling abroad, roaming Internet rates can be huge," Mr Greenberg said.
"We designed the app so that no internet connection is required."
Google offers an option, too
While only French, German and Spanish translations are available, more languages are on the way. Next to be added will be Brazilian Portuguese, Hebrew, and Chinese and all future updates will be included in the initial purchase price.
All of the translations are written by native language speakers, to ensure they're colloquially correct.
While the clever Allergy FT app is ideal if you are travelling to countries where French, German and Spanish are spoken, other languages still present a problem.
Google to the rescue. Just open the search engine, open Google Translate and type in a phrase like: "I am allergic to (list allergic food). Please tell me which of these dishes contains (food)" into the dialog box, then nominate which of the 72 languages available you wish to translate the phrase into.
(Rather than rely on having internet access while travelling, you could also cut and paste the translated phrase into a Word document and repeat it in a 3-column format as many times as will fit onto an A4 page. Print out the page, trim each complete phrase into the size of a business card and you'll have more than enough cards for a trip overseas.)
Not all food allergies are life-long
Allergies and other food-related conditions usually manifest themselves in early childhood. In developed countries, as many as 6% of children have a food allergy – and the number is rising.
"Although any child can be at risk for food allergies, they generally occur in kids under 3, and usually in a child's first year of life," said Dr Ed Bajrovic, Medical Director of Travelvax Australia.
"They are more common in young children with a family history of allergies or asthma, those who are genetically predisposed, or those with elevated allergen-specific serum immunoglobulin levels (IgE concentrations).
"The good news is that some allergies are not life-long, as once thought.
"By the age of 5, many children will outgrow an allergy to milk, egg, wheat, and soy if they avoid that food when they are young. But, allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, and shellfish tend to last a lifetime."
ABOUT FOOD ALLERGIES
What is an allergy?
A food allergy is an abnormal over-reaction of the immune system to a certain food or food component. It is the immune system responding to what ordinarily is a harmless substance as if it were harmful. Today, doctors are better able to tell whether a person is actually allergic or simply intolerant to a particular food, and the severity of the symptoms.
What causes allergies?
Eight types of foods account for 90% of all allergies. These include: cow's milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (such as walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, and macadamia nuts), fish, shellfish, soybeans, and wheat.
A very small percentage of children are so sensitive to a particular food that cross contamination becomes a problem. This can occur virtually anywhere food is prepared – from a food stall to a five-star restaurant – and usually happens when kitchen staff touch the offending food and then touch safe food. (Peanut particles can even travel in the air and cause a reaction for people who are particularly sensitive.)
What are the common symptoms?
Symptoms of an allergic reaction to food can range from gradual and mild, to sudden and severe. Commonly symptoms includes one or more of the following: Hives, tingling in the mouth, swelling in the tongue and throat, difficulty breathing or wheezing, abdominal cramps, vomiting or diarrhoea, eczema or rash, coughing or wheezing, loss of consciousness, or dizziness.
How are allergies treated?
Some types of mild food allergies are treatable with an antihistamine or bronchodilator, while a severe reaction, called anaphylaxis, may requires an injection of adrenaline delivered in device called an epipen or anapen. Epipens can be used by parents or self-administered by people who have had severe allergic reactions in the past.
Anaphalaxis can be fatal
Anaphylaxis is a sudden, severe, often whole-of-body allergic reaction that results in difficulty breathing and swelling of the throat and tongue, often with a widespread hives-like rash. There is a marked fall in blood pressure and the victim may collapse.. Without rapid, expert medical treatment, anaphylaxis can be fatal.
Avoid food 'triggers'
At home or away, people with food allergies need to know how to avoid allergic reactions and how to deal with them if they occur. Avoiding the offending foods may be easy if the food is uncommon or easy to identify. However, when travelling overseas, allergy sufferers should be prepared to have package ingredients translated, ask detailed questions, and ultimately be prepared to severely restrict their diet to avoid the risk of having a severe reaction in a foreign country.
Always check before eating
While the Allergy FT app or a card is a simple way to tell someone you have an allergy, never assume that waiters or flight attendants know the ingredients of the food they serve. If you are in any doubt about how safe a particular dish is to eat, ask to speak with the restaurant manager or, better still, the chef and explain your allergy with your phone or allergy card.
If you're not sure of the ingredients, make another menu selection you know is safe.