Living with allergies in Finland

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Moving to a new country when you or one of your children has life-threatening allergies can be scary. It can be especially scary when you don’t speak the language of your new home country. In our free grocery store guide we don’t talk about allergies. This blog post is a good addition to our free guide. Here we discuss what it’s like to live with allergies in Finland.

Dealing with food allergies in restaurants

If you or your loved one has serious food allergies, it is best to mention the allergies already when reserving your table. You should mention your allergy and also what that allergy means. If eating an allergen means that you’ll have serious symptoms or are at risk of dying, say it out loud. Repeat that information to the server and, if necessary, ask to speak to the cook. Do not trust that the restaurant employees know enough about allergies to understand what your particular allergy means. Explain it to them.

You might want to carry with you a piece of paper where you have listed in Finnish those foods that you can’t eat. Below we give you a link to a good resource that can help you do that.  The list should be in Finnish because it is not certain that everyone preparing the food knows enough foreign languages to properly understand your dietary restrictions if they are not written in Finnish.

If you are having lunch at a buffet place, the restaurant should have a list of allergens in the food that day. These lists are usually just in Finnish so you’ll have to do some translating. If you do suffer from life-threatening allergies, ask and make sure that you are given the correct information. 

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Dealing with food allergies in the grocery store

Finland follows the EU regulation that requires certain allergens to be mentioned in labels in food packages. The food items that always have to be mentioned if the food in question contains them include:

  • glutenous grains (wheat, rye, oat, barley, spelt, kamut or khorasan wheat),
  • grain products,
  • shellfish,
  • mollusks,
  • egg,
  • fish,
  • nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, walnut, cashew, pecans, brazil nut, pistachio, macadamia nut, peanut),
  • soybeans,
  • milk,
  • celery,
  • mustard,
  • sesame seed,
  • lupine,
  • sulfur dioxide and sulfites. 

Since Finnish has a tendency of using a lot of compound words, reading food labels might be daunting. There are at least two websites that provide food allergy dictionaries. They can help you with this. You can find one at the Food Info website. The European Consumer Center in Germany has compiled another list. It can be found here. These lists will help you with your allergies in Finland when you go to the grocery store. 

If you suffer from nut allergies, pay special attention to the phrase “saattaa sisältää pähkinää”. It means that the product in question may contain nuts or traces thereof. Sometimes food producers may also add a phrase “saattaa sisältää pieniä määriä…” with a name of an allergen attached to the phrase. This means that the food item in question may contain small amounts or traces of the said allergen. Such a phrase may be added when the food producer cannot guarantee that the particular allergen hasn’t contaminated this food item. 

Food allergies in daycare and at school

Finnish daycare centers and schools do provide special diets for kids with allergies. In order for your child to have meals that take his/her allergies into account, you usually need to have a note from a doctor saying that such a diet is necessary. Ask your daycare provider or your child’s school for further information about their practices.

In case your child’s allergies are severe or life-threatening, discuss that over with your daycare center and your child’s school. Make sure that they know how to recognize such a reaction and what to do in that case. Your child’s doctor or nurse may help train the personnel at the school or daycare center if necessary. 

Pollen allergies in Finland

Tree pollen may also cause you allergies in Finland. About 20 % of Finns are allergic to different tree pollens. About 15 % are allergic to birch pollen alone. The worst period for people suffering from birch pollen allergy lasts for about two to three weeks and the worst period is usually in May. The TV weather forecasts in Finland usually include a pollen forecast maps during pollen season. You can check the pollen forecast also yourself here. They have their info also in English.

If you suspect you are suffering from pollen allergies, please contact your doctor. If not allergies, the sand dust in the air in early spring can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation. During the winter, sand is put on roads and pavements to prevent people and cars from slipping, and that sand is the culprit here. The city maintenance crews usually try to clean the roads and pavements as soon as possible though. 

Medications for allergies

Pharmacies in Finland sell several different types of allergy medications that don’t require a prescription. They sell antihistamines in tablet form, as eye drops or nasal spray, and as liquid medication. The medications on sale have different active ingredients. Ask the pharmacist for advice when choosing your allergy medication. If the over-the-counter medications do not help you with your allergies in Finland, contact your local health center or your occupational health provider for prescription medication. 

If your allergies are severe enough to warrant carrying an epi-pen or equivalent, make sure yours is up to date. In Finland, you need a prescription for it. In order to get one, contact your local health center or your occupational health provider. 

Preparing for the worst

If you have life-threatening allergies, it’s good to let the people you interact with regularly know about them. Also, tell them what to do if you happen to have an allergic reaction around them.

You can also carry with you an SOS passport detailing your allergies. This is a small document by the Finnish Red Cross. You can document your allergies there and carry it with you at all times. You can purchase the passport from the Finnish Red Cross. Currently, it costs 3,5 euros. You also can make one yourself. 

You can also ask your doctor to make a note of your allergies into your electronic My Kanta records if they are not recorded there yet. This is particularly crucial if you are allergic to medications or for example latex used in the health care sector. If you are hospitalized for some reason, the health care professionals can see your info in My Kanta. But even if your allergies are mentioned there, it doesn’t hurt to repeat the information out loud to the people caring for you.

With a severe allergic reaction, it is always best to call 112 immediately and follow their instructions.  

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