Type 'A' Takes on Allergy Awareness
Meg Nohe created a unique consulting business, Food Allergy Partners, to help others after her own daughter suffered a severe allergy attack.
Never in a million years would Meg Nohe, a former pharmaceutical salesperson from Leawood, have believed that a bowl of mixed nuts would create terror in her heart.
But it does.
It all started when her daughter, Ellis, 3, was 20 months old. She had eaten a granola bar with peanuts in it. “She had a little hacking cough after that,” Nohe recalls. “It was pretty immediate. We thought maybe she had a little piece stuck in her throat.”
The coughing stopped. But a couple of weeks later when Nohe’s mom gave Ellis a dried cherry from a nut mix, immediately Ellis experienced that same symptom as before.
“She started having this hacking cough, and we thought, ‘OK, something is not right,’” Nohe says.
She took her daughter to the same allergist she had gone to for seasonal allergies while growing up. After being tested for food allergies, it turned out Ellis had a full-blown allergy to peanuts and tree nuts. The dried cherry she had been given had nut protein powder on it from the mix.
“This was our first entrance into the food-allergy world,” says Nohe, a 32-year-old mother of two. But, being a “very type A go-getter,” she and her husband, Trevor said, “we’re going to be all over this. We were going to be the best food-allergy family there ever was to keep Ellis safe.”
Armed with questions for her allergist, Nohe delved into learning all about this world she and her family were suddenly plunged in. One of the first things she learned was that food allergies can be transmitted through ingestion, inhalation and touch, and that reactions can be as small as a little itch and a few hives to full-blown anaphylaxis that could be life-threatening.
And she discovered just how common food allergies are. Researchers estimate that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies, and that this potentially deadly disease affects 1 in every 13 children under 18 years of age in the United States. That’s about two in every classroom.
“I very quickly realized right after she was diagnosed that there’s a big difference between the medical side of it and then living day-to-day,” Nohe says. “Our physician was fantastic managing the medical side of it — tracking the blood, helping us understand the basics of what we needed to know, understanding what medications we needed and how to use them.”
But it was the lifestyle questions concerning FDA food labeling requirements — how to travel with a child with food allergies, how to order food in a restaurant, how to attend social gatherings when mixed nuts are on the table — that also prompted Nohe to learn more.
“I didn’t quite know who to go to because these questions weren’t necessarily medically related, but they were related to food allergies,” she says.
Nohe became extremely active in the Kansas City food-allergy community, serving on the boards of Food Allergy Research and Education and Centerview Food Allergy Management. She authored the state of Kansas Food Allergy Awareness Week proclamation signed by Governor Sam Brownback.
She also discovered a program called AllerCoach, which offers a 14-week certification program in non-clinical food-allergy management. She completed the program, saying that there are only 10 Certified AllerCoaches in the nation and that she is the only one in the metro area.
Armed with a decade’s worth of experience in clinical pharmaceutical and device sales and medical education, last November Nohe started a business, Food Allergy Partners, The food allergy and intolerance coaching and consulting practice offers fact-based education, training and tools to help clients manage their special dietary needs on a day-to-day basis.
“The overall goal is that the allergist can get them up to speed and in a good place medically and then I can help manage them not clinically but living day-to- day,” she says.
Nohe offers highly customizable services primarily to three groups: individuals and families, schools, and restaurants and commercial kitchens.
For individuals and families, she provides education sessions customized to each client’s specific dietary needs, including help with grocery shopping, meal planning, and preparing for travel and dining out. For schools, she helps implement best practices for keeping food-allergic children safe while accommodating the needs of all students. For restaurants, she offers solutions to streamline the process for serving guests with special dietary needs, helps train staff members on food safety and develops dedicated allergen menus.
Susan Jones, director of Lord of Life Early Education Center in Leawood, says Nohe helped educate the Center’s 15 teachers on how to implement best food-allergy safety practices into the classrooms early this year.
“She’s very pleasant to work with and really knows what she’s talking about,” Jones says. “She’s very well-educated. I’m glad to have found her because it’s just not as simple as it sounds.”
For example, the staff at the preschool learned that certain cleaners don’t get peanut protein off the tables used for snacks and crafts.
“They have to be cleaned a certain way to get rid of the protein,” Jones says. “That was news to me.”
For Nohe, putting a voice to the food-allergy community is what it’s all about.
“As much as the food-allergy community is growing, there’s still not as much awareness as you would think,” she says. “People don’t fully understand what it means, precautions you need to take.
“The crazy thing about food allergies is that everyone in the industry is still learning so much about them. There’s so much we know, and there’s so much we still don’t know.”
For more information visit myfoodallergypartners.com.
Food Allergy Facts
According to Food Allergy Research & Education, foodallergy.org:
A study released in 2013 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that food allergies among children increased about 50 percent between 1997 and 2011.
A food allergy can begin at any age.
The number of people who have a food allergy is growing, but there is no clear answer as to why.
Every three minutes, a food-allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency department, resulting in more than 200,000 ER visits each year.
Eight foods account for 90 percent of all reactions: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish. Even trace amounts of a food allergen can cause a reaction.
- There is no cure for food allergens. Strict avoidance of food allergens and early recognition and management of allergic reactions to food are important measures to prevent serious health consequences.