Food Allergies? If So, Get Ready To Fork Over Your Wallet

allergy-free groceries cost more
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For millions of Americans with food allergies, there is no arguing that life can often be a bit more stressful. Not only is there a need to worry about being safe from food allergens or cross-contamination, but also a need to plan ahead for what to eat wherever you go and of course, being sure to have an emergency plan in place in case of a reaction. As if that is not enough, another factor that has been the cause of distress is the financial burden that goes along with a life of food allergies.

Living with food allergies or having a child with food allergies can take a heavy hit on your wallet on many levels. From diagnosis to treatment there is often an added medical expense. Add to that the cost of keeping medication on hand, decreased job productivity due to needing to care for your child and the issue of relying on speciality foods.  In fact studies show that food allergies are costing about $20 billion a year, which works out to be about $4100 per child with food allergies. To date about 4-6 percent of children under 18 are reported to have food allergies, and this number has been continuing to rise. With food allergies on the rise, this financial burden is sure to continue to grow.

Diagnosis and Treatment 

Perhaps it is a case of hives, an itchy throat, or even an upset stomach. Whether it is you or your child, allergic reactions can be scary. Quite often the second exposure to an allergen can cause a more dramatic reaction. It is always important to follow up with your doctor if you think you or your child has had an allergic reaction.

Once you meet with your doctor, you might require allergy testing, in the form of skin and blood tests. For many people this may mean seeing your primary care doctor, as well as meeting with an allergist. Once the allergies are confirmed, a treatment plan will be determined. This plan can include periodic allergy testing, follow-up doctor visits and medical management, including prescriptions for epinephrine if needed. 

For the family undergoing the medical diagnosing and treatment for food allergies this can lead to a lot of expenses. If you have insurance, this may result in co-pays, but these can easily add up, especially when you see specialists. For others, who might not have insurance, this can become a huge financial issue. 

For those in need of an epinephrine auto-injector this is also a cost factor as they are about $100 each. For safety most people need to carry a few of these, and often insurance will not cover more than two.  The injectors also expire and need to be replaced often. At times, those with serious allergies might wind up in the Emergency Room, adding additional expenses as well.

Decreased Job Productivity

Just as you are about to head into your morning meeting the phone rings and it’s your child’s school. They inform you that your child has had an allergic reaction and within minutes you are on your way to the school. If this sounds familiar, it is because for many parents of kids with food allergies, at a moment's notice you can be required to head to their rescue. Additionally, many caretakers often have to serve as the class parent, attend parties or oversee events that involve food. This is all on top of time taken off to head to allergy and doctors appointments. 

For many families this results in a financial loss as parents lose time at work to care for their child with food allergies. In some families, a parent may have to turn down higher paying jobs that are further away or even have to stay home due to the extent of the allergies. Situations like this lead to greater financial stressors for families as they are doing their best to safeguard their children from allergic reactions.

Specialty Food

The good news is that so many traditional markets carry specialty foods, saving time from going to various stores to meet your allergy needs. The variety of allergen-free  foods and substitutions available has grown substantially. Foods like soy milk and almond milk for those with a dairy allergy have become common place. Bagel stores offering tofu cream cheese and gluten free bagels for those with allergies is no longer a rarity. Kids with peanut allergies can enjoy soy butter or sun butter instead. The sales of all specialty allergen-free foods markets have continued to rise. The gluten-free market alone has become a $6 billion dollar industry in the last five years.  

While the number of new products on the market continues to grow, sales figures rise and families are happier that their kids' needs are met, one staggering issue remains. The cost of speciality food items tends to be higher than the regular counterparts. Part of the reason is due to the fact that small companies have higher margins when creating new products, and many items may not be from mainstream companies.  Additionally, the ingredients themselves tend to be higher in price so creating a tasty product winds up costing the manufacturer more money. Then they mark up the consumer price so that they can make a profit.

Many studies have looked more closely to what the price difference boils down too. Many studies confirm that gluten-free foods are as much as 242% more expensive than regular items. And for those with a dairy allergy, buying vegan cheese will cost about $2.50 more per pound versus regular cheese.

The same staggering price difference applies to other top allergen-free foods. If you are purchasing these things once in a while, it may not make a difference in your budget.  However, for those who are living a life with food allergies, this can take a huge toll on your wallet. And truth be told, there are not many ways around this if you are trying to provide for you or your kids who must avoid those foods to be healthy and safe. 

Bottom Line

Living a life with food allergies is no easy task, especially when it comes to cost. While it will cost you more money, there is a bright side. There are many great doctors to help you manage your condition, employers who support your family's needs, and a growing number of products on the market to allow you and your family to eat healthy, tasty food. 

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