The Importance of Food Allergy Education

Last Thursday, Amy Jessup, the Food Allergy Educator at Carle Hospital spoke to undergraduate students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to promote food allergy education and raise awareness about the underestimated disease. I was delighted to have gotten in contact with this wonderful lady because her education program was an integral part in keeping the community safe and healthy, and I wanted to share her knowledge to university students so that they too can learn more about this underestimated disease.

During her talk, she discussed the causes, symptoms, and treatment of food allergies as well as the science behind an allergic reaction and how an Epi-Pen auto-injector can save a life. She also touched upon the different kinds of food allergens and how one can avoid an allergic reaction. Due to the fact that she spoke to college students, she also talked about how to deal with food allergies in college and the ways they can advocate and raise awareness about this disease to not only educate the public, but also provide support for individuals with food allergies. Many students were not familiar with the basics of food allergy and Amy Jessup’s talk at the university showed that education about this disease is important to alleviate misunderstanding and to emphasize that food allergies are especially deadly when you, a family member, or a friend undergoes an allergic reaction.

Because of her passion for food allergy awareness and having sons with food allergies, Amy Jessup started the Food Allergy Education Program at Carle Hospital to formally continue educating families, schools, organizations, and restaurants in the community about the basics of food allergy and what steps her clients can do to live a safe and comfortable life. She also cites that Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago has a great Food Allergy Education Program as well as a wonderful research team composed of talented doctors and health care professionals that strive to understand the science behind food allergies and growing knowledge on food allergies as a whole.

It was a pleasure to have a Food Allergy Educator come in and speak to college students because I believe education on this rising public health issue is one of the most influential ways in getting the word out. Education in itself is an important aspect of our society and learning about a topic you are passionate about and ultimately applying that knowledge for the good of society is certainly inspirational and a valuable part of society.

As Derrick A. Bell says, “Education leads to enlightenment. Enlightenment opens the way to empathy. Empathy foreshadows reform.”



Amy Jessup explains the science behind anaphylaxis.


With the lovely Amy Jessup, Carle’s Food Allergy Educator.


Eczema and Allergic Disease: What’s the connection?

More than a quarter of those affected with food allergies are diagnosed with atopic dermatitis (AD) also known as eczema which can range from mild to severe forms of itchy rash, blisters, and dry skin. Eczema often occurs around the face, inside elbows, in the back of knees, arms, and hands. Usually atopic dermatitis lasts a lifetime and is deeply rooted in a family history of allergy.

The biological basis of atopic dermatitis is caused by a loss-of-function mutation in Exon 3  of the filaggrin (FLG) gene resulting in the absence of filaggrin.

Filaggrin is an important protein in the epidermis that acts to stabilize the stratum corneum (SC) layer by organizing the keratin into bundles which contribute to its strength and integrity. Breakdown of filaggrin also releases amino acids and organic molecules that form natural moisturizing factors (NMF) to keep it hydrated and moisturized. Upon the degradation of filaggrin, the epidermis becomes acidic which gives the skin an anti-microbial effect and allows for ceramide metabolism.

Therefore without the presence of filaggrin, AD patients are more prone to bacterial invasion because it loses its acidity due to an increase in pH which can contribute to infection and inflammation. Additionally,  AD patients have very few natural moisturizing factors and ceramides which contribute to dry skin, and disorganized keratin filaments causing epidermal fragility.

Recent studies have shown that FLG mutations increase the risk for asthma and allergic rhinitis (hay fever) as well as food sensitization. Although it is not entirely known that FLG mutations is significantly associated with food allergy, more research needs to be done to determine if other factors may be involved in the conversion of food sensitization to allergy.

If your child has symptoms of eczema, consult your doctor for possible treatment options such as specific topical medication and/or moisturizers to reduce inflammation and hydrate the skin.

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Epinephrine: A Life-Saving Drug


Since 2002, ambulances have been stocked with emergency epinephrine, the number one medication used to stop an allergic reaction. Thanks to Nona Narvaez, a mother of a child who has food allergies, Minnesota passed a law that would require all ambulances to carry epinephrine. As the percentage of the population with food allergies rises, ambulances need to be ready to treat anaphylactic shock, a severe form of an allergic reaction that can be fatal if not treated immediately. Due to the expensive cost of supplying ambulances with emergency epinephrine, only four states have not passed the Epi-Pen Law which gives another motivating factor for food allergy advocates to raise the level of awareness and education for food allergies. In fact, in 2001, Illinois was the first state to enact a law that required EMT-Basics to carry Epi-Pen auto-injectors, a major step in the food allergy awareness campaign which was all due to mothers who were passionate about food allergy advocacy.

epi pen

Not only are ambulances now stocked with epinephrine, schools around the nation are gradually seeing the importance of having stocked Epi-Pen auto-injectors just in case a student has an allergic reaction.  In 2011, schools in Chicago are required to stock Epi-Pen auto-injectors under state law. There is a constant worry among families who have children with food allergies about the immediate availability of emergency epinephrine when they travel, so doctors often prescribe Epi-Pen auto-injectors just in case an allergic reaction happens. Epinephrine is the most important medication that food allergy sufferers carry around because it is the one thing that could save their lives if they have an allergic reaction.

For more information about the fight for food allergy awareness and the role of emergency epinephrine, visit:


How it all started

I came into college without a clue of what my passions were and now that I am second semester senior, I am glad to say that college has changed me for the better. It gave me the opportunity to explore and experience activities that I thought I would never get into and I am really happy that I gave them a chance. After four years, I found out who I was, what I really wanted in life, and what I was most passionate about. However I am still learning day by day about myself and the lives of others, and I hope to never stop.

When I was a freshman, I took an introductory research course in the Chemistry department which had a curriculum solely based on the students’ interests. I was assigned to do a presentation on a topic I was interested in using scientific articles as sources. I had no idea what my interests were at the time until I delved deeper and asked myself, “what are you passionate about?” I knew I was passionate about something, but what? Family has always been number one on my priority list and the moment I thought of them, an imaginary light bulb turned on. My sister and I as well as members of my extended family have food allergies that affected the way we live our lives. The threat of a possible allergic reaction has plagued my family and special precautions and action plans are made to avoid a possible life-threatening reaction. I knew the topic of food allergies was very important to me and I wanted to learn more about the disease, so I based my presentation on food allergies and the science behind an allergic reaction. I was surprised with the amount of positive feedback I received and increasingly, more people were wondering – what was this disease all about? Was there a cure?

From that point on, my curiosity about food allergies fueled me to raise awareness because I was frustrated with the number of people who actually knew what happened during an allergic reaction and how to deal with the situation. And so, that experience began my journey to educate and raise food allergy awareness to help not only my family, but others who are diagnosed with the disease to feel included in society.

Below are snapshots of my work in efforts to raise awareness. These are just two, but I hope to create more.




I hope to use this blog to facilitate dialogue about food allergies and to raise awareness about this potentially life-threatening disease. Please follow if you are interested and let me know your thoughts!