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Making Valentine's Day safe for your allergic sweetie

By Elizabeth Landau, CNN
updated 10:50 AM EST, Thu February 14, 2013
Life may be like a box of chocolates, but with food allergies, you need to know exactly what you're getting.
Life may be like a box of chocolates, but with food allergies, you need to know exactly what you're getting.
  • Common food allergens include milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy and wheat
  • Call restaurants ahead of time to talk about food allergy concerns
  • Some people are allergic to latex condoms

(CNN) -- It's Valentine's Day, a nationally recognized opportunity to show your romantic partner that you care about him or her.

But what if your honey has allergies? There are many different kinds of allergies, and some -- particularly food allergies -- can even be life-threatening.

We hear a lot about a mysterious rise in allergies among children, but adults can have reactions to plants and foods too. A 2009 study found that 83% of people with allergic rhinitis -- those annoying symptoms often associated with pollen in spring -- said their sex lives were curtailed by their condition in some way.

That may be just one study, but the phenomenon makes sense to allergists.

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"Think about it: If you can't breathe, your nose is running, and your eyes are itchy, you most likely don't feel very attractive or sexy," said Dr. Clifford Bassett, director of Allergy & Asthma Care of New York and member of the public education committee for the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, in an e-mail.

Food allergies are especially problematic on occasions such as this one, where candies produced in facilities that make nut and peanut products get passed around, and restaurant staffers may be too busy to remember to honor special dietary needs. It's natural to feel anxious about trying chocolates of unknown origin or a new eatery if even a tiny piece of nut could send you to the emergency room.

As the significant other, you have the opportunity to be an "allergy hero." Your job is to minimize risk and create a safe and supportive environment for your sweetie, on Valentine's Day and in general.

Here are some tips for keeping romance alive and keep your partner healthy:

Reconsider flowers

Certain plants are more likely to induce sneezing than others, Bassett said. The scents of roses, star jasmine, narcissus, gardenia, lily of the valley, citrus and eucalyptus trees are some of the most common plant sources of nasal reactions.

You could also ask about other possible nasal irritants such as pets and dust in your home. It might be a good idea to clean up anyway.

Know what's in the sweet stuff

Life may be like a box of chocolates, but with food allergies, you need to know exactly what you're getting.

The most common food allergens are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat, according to the Mayo Clinic. Many food products are required to have labels that list any of these ingredients that may be inside.

Depending on the severity of the food allergy, a box of chocolates that is made on shared equipment or even in the same facility as nuts may be hazardous. If you buy a heart-shaped box where some chocolate cubes are filled with almonds and others are not, this may be unacceptable to a nut-allergic person.

There are several companies that make entirely nut-free, allergy-safe products for such situations, such as Amanda's Own Confections, Divvies, Enjoy Life, Indie Candy and Vermont Nut Free Chocolates. In addition, the Bay Area Allergy Advisory Board has created a list of sweets that tend to be safe for nut-allergic people.

When in doubt, though, make something yourself or include your partner in a fun baking activity.

... And the rest of the food

If your significant other or Valentine's date has food allergies, you can't just show up at a restaurant and expect special dietary needs to be accommodated, especially on a busy day.

Eating out can cause a lot of anxiety for people with food allergies. Sloane Miller, author of the popular blog "Please Don't Pass the Nuts" and the book "Allergic Girl: Adventures in Living Well with Food Allergies" has a very specific strategy for ensuring a safe dining experience at a restaurant.

She recommends calling ahead and talking with the restaurant management to make sure her dietary restrictions can be accommodated. Once at the restaurant, she meets the manager and shows a card listing everything she can't eat; often, she said, a chef will join this conversation. At this point, like in "Cheers," everyone knows everyone's name.

After eating, Miller leaves a generous tip and thanks the server, chef and manager. The next day she often gives a follow-up thank you to the manager by phone.

Of course, if you really want to ensure that your honey's food isn't contaminated by allergens, there's always the option of cooking at home. That way, you can be sure that none of the pots, pans or utensils touched a problematic food in the preparation of the meal. You should keep a lot of these things in mind for children with allergies, too.

Watch your own food, too

If food allergies are a factor in your honey's life, the nonallergic person should also watch intake.

Research presented at an allergy conference in 2010 suggests that another person's saliva can present problems for an allergic person even hours after eating. Brushing your teeth may help, but it may not be enough, Bassett said. Talk to your partner about his or her level of comfort regarding what you eat before smooching.

Beware of scented creams and oils

Massage oils, lotions and fragrances can all have ingredients that make people break out into rashes; ask ahead of time if there are particular chemicals or essential oils that cause problems.

Almond and macadamia nut oils, for instance, may be present in common beauty products. Keep this in mind also for purchasing gifts.

If you're going all the way ...

Some people are allergic to latex. If you are planning on using condoms, be aware if your lover has a latex allergy and use a nonlatex condom if so. Tests are available to confirm if someone is hypersensitive to latex.

Be understanding and supportive

A willingness to take extra precautions surrounding allergies, especially life-threatening food allergies, will go a long way.

Everyone with food allergies should have an anaphyalxis action plan that they discuss and formulate with their doctor, and you should be familiar with it, too.

An epinephrine auto-injector, which people with severe food allergies are recommended to carry, can save a life if symptoms such as shortness of breath, throat closure and dizziness appear. After using one, a patient will may still need emergency medical attention, so call 911 or go to the nearest hospital emergency room.

You should know where the appropriate medications are kept and what your significant other's emergency contact information is in case you need to go to the hospital.

Lastly, Miller said, remember to remain focused on the point of Valentine's Day -- "being together, expressing affection, support and love to each other."

Learn more about allergies

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