Wait times, lack of allergists pose challenges in managing food allergies in Canada: experts

More than three million Canadians are living with food allergies, but finding help is no easy task.

“It absolutely is a challenge to access an allergist in Canada,” Jennifer Gerdts, the executive director of Food Allergy Canada, told Global News.

There are fewer than 250 board-certified allergists in Canada, according to Food Allergy Canada. Most are in larger city centres.

Gerdts says there are about 10 allergists in Manitoba, all located in Winnipeg. New Brunswick and Saskatchewan have very few allergists and there are no allergists in Prince Edward Island, Yukon, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.

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“It really depends on the reason why you need to see an allergist and the area you’re located,” said Dr. Mariam Hanna, a pediatric allergist and clinical immunologist and professor at McMaster University.

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“Some families need to wait six to 12 months to more than a year to be seen by (an allergist), but sometimes in an emergent situation we’re able to see patients within a month or within a week depending on what the situation or concern is.”

Both Gerdts and Hanna say the lengthy wait times to see an allergist can be a stress-inducing experience.

“That uncertainty of knowing if you’re allergic or not and what steps you need to be able to take to stay safe, it’s a quality of life impact,” Gerdts said.

“I mean, it’s a quality of life impact to have a diagnosis of an allergy, but you can imagine that the uncertainty of knowing whether this is the type of allergy that can lead to anaphylaxis – that’s stressful.”

Hanna says it can especially be stressful for families with younger children.

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“I think there’s always a level of concern, but with infants or small children, there’s more concern (over) what are you missing, what other possible allergies could there be, can it get worse, or what will it look like the next time.”

Gerdts says it also makes eating a stressful activity.

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“People with a food allergy have to think, ‘OK, what’s safe? How do I avoid what I’m allergic to?’ and that comes with a huge quality of life impact, because instead of looking at food as something (social), it’s ‘How can I manage my risks?’” Gerdts said.

“The quality of life impact can result in anxiety, it can result in stress, and just difficulty trying to be socially included.”

She also says having people around you who understand and are informed about food allergies can make the world of difference.

“(For) parents with young children it’s a big stress when all of a sudden your child, who may not be able to navigate avoiding their allergy on their own,” she said.

“(It’s helpful) knowing that the people that are around them understand food allergy, understand what a food allergic reaction looks likes and understand how to treat it.”

&© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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