Allergies ― and allergens ― seem everywhere today. They impact people of all ages. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology estimates that, for children alone, “10 percent have hay fever, 8 percent have food allergies, and 13 percent have skin allergies.”
Allergic reactions range from the simply irritating to the potentially life threatening. However, human ingenuity is finding new ways to cope with allergies in daily life. Enter ‘Allergy Apps’: a mobile device technology that may help people cope better with allergies today.
According to an NPR article, food allergy apps on the market fall into three categories: “food journals, to track foods eaten and symptoms; databases of food ingredients; and bar code scanners that can be used to determine food ingredients.” The diverse range of allergy apps now available is also well reflected in a recent article on Healthline.com called “The 12 Best Allergy iPhone & Android Apps of 2013.”
A new food allergy education app was released by Anaphylaxis Canada in 2013. According to Kyle Dine, a consultant for Anaphylaxis Canada, the app “WhyRiskIt?” was designed to help “educate allergic pre-teens, teens and young adults about the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis, treatment and emergency procedures ― information that should be at the fingertips of all allergic teens.” In the future Dine suggests such apps “will likely continue to grow as they provide people with new and convenient ways to access information and support.” Some food apps already let consumers scan product UPC codes ― enabling people to see if the product is free of specific allergens ― yet Dine points out: “it's important for consumers to remember that manufacturers can change their product ingredients or manufacturing processes, making it important to always read the label.”
Given the sensitive nature of food allergies, many doctors naturally have concerns as to how food apps should be used. Scott Sicherer, Chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, expressed some reservations about food apps in general: “I definitely have concerns and skepticism...” he told NPR. “There’s a big difference if you’re deciding if something’s going to send you into [life-threatening] anaphylaxis, or if the calories are higher or lower. The margin of error is different.”
How mobile devices might aid people with allergies will continue to be a focus of research in the future. UCLA has already designed a lightweight device named the iTube “which attaches to a common cell phone to detect allergens in food samples.” Allergy sufferers in the 21st century seem, either way, to have more and more information close at hand.