New wearable devices aim to detect allergens in food and in the air. But should you trust them?
At our annual family reunion one summer, my cousin Shara was happily stuffing herself full of chips and dip when her older brother noticed her face turning pink. Her eyelids and lips inflated like tiny balloons. Then she began to gag, cough, and gasp for air. We screamed for help, and her panicked parents whisked her away to a local hospital.
Shara knew she was allergic to shellfish but didn’t suspect anything on the picnic table contained it. That delectable dip? It was made with crab. My cousin nearly died—not from negligence or ignorance, but simply from unexpected exposure. And she’s not alone.
In the U.S., food allergies cause about 200,000 emergency room visits each year, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. One study estimates that one in five food-allergy hospitalizations is due to accidental exposure to “hidden” allergens.
But what if there were a way for an allergy patient to test food quickly and easily, a portable technology sensitive enough to detect trace amounts of offending allergens in our food or air? It’s an ambitious goal, but that’s exactly what a host of new companies are trying to develop.