Please note that all of the information provided here is based on my own personal experience, and that of other mom’s of kids with food allergies. None of the information below should be treated as medical advice. Food allergies can be life-threatening and should be treated with utmost caution. If you or someone you care for has any questions or concerns, they should be addressed by a qualified medical professional.
Kids with Food Allergies
Food allergies potentially affect 1 in every 13 children.1 Last week, I shared an article on Food Allergies in Children, and talked about how I discovered my daughter has life-threatening food allergies. This week I am sharing some of the information I have learned over the past year, along with tips and suggestions from other parents who have kids with food allergies.
What is a Food Allergy?
“Food allergy is an abnormal response to a food, triggered by the body’s immune system. There are several types of immune responses to food. The information on this Web site focuses on one type of adverse reaction to food, in which the body produces a specific type of antibody, called immunoglobulin E (IgE). The binding of IgE antibodies to specific molecules in a food triggers the immune response. Read about what happens during an allergic response to food.
The response may be mild, or in rare cases it can be associated with the severe and life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. If you have a food allergy, it is extremely important for you to work with your healthcare professional to learn what foods cause your allergic reaction.” – National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
Food allergies occur when an individual touches or ingests a food, and their immune system reacts to the protein found in the food. The immune system actually attacks the protein as if it were a virus or harmful pathogen. This results in a number of different negative, and oftentimes dangerous reactions. Symptoms can vary, but common allergic reactions can include:
- Hives, itching or eczema
- Redness of the skin
- Facial swelling (lips, tongue, throat or face)
- Vomiting, nausea, diarrhea or cramps
- Weak pulse, rapid heartbeat, dizziness, passing out
- Shortness of breath, coughing, weezing
Anaphylaxis is a term used to describe a type of allergic reaction, which is extremely severe and can be life threatening. To learn more about anaphylactic reactions, visit the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
What can cause a Food Allergy Reaction?
There are 8 common food allergens in the US:2
- Tree Nuts
Although the list above includes the most common allergens, it is certainly not an all-inclusive list. Any food can cause an allergic reaction. Beyond food, almost anything can cause an allergic reaction: medications, latex, bee stings, and chemicals are a few others.
Treating Food Allergies
There is no known cure for food allergies, although there are preliminary studies that show allergies may be lessened through desensitization (not to be tried at home). My daughter’s pediatric allergist told me that 20% of children will outgrow their allergies by the time they reach adulthood, but that leaves the other 80% who may have the allergy for their entire life. The only way to ensure safety of anyone with food allergies is absolute avoidance. With children who have food allergies, the tiniest exposure can be fatal. These are the medications my daughter’s allergist has prescribed for her:
- Epi-Pen: an epinephrine autoinjector that is injected the outer thigh, and may help treat signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis.
- Auvi-Q: an alternative to the epi-pen, and it is also an epinephrine autoinjector which may treat signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis.
- Benadryl: Diphenhydramine is an antihistamine that may be used to help treat mild signs and symptoms of allergic reactions.
I have all 3 on me at all times, and keep Auvi-Q and Benadryl at her daycare, at all times. I tend to prefer the Auvi-Q over Epi-Pen, because the medication speaks instructions once activated. I find it helpful to have verbal instructions, for anyone unfamiliar with administering epinephrine autoinjectors.
For any questions about how to treat an allergic reaction, it is imperative that you consult a qualified medical professional, as all allergies and individuals are different, and may require different treatment plans.
Tips from Moms of Kids with Food Allergies
I asked some veteran moms who have dealt with food allergies in children for many years, to share their most important tips they have learned along the way. While these may be informative, please keep in mind these are tips from moms who are not medical professionals.
- “All food allergy reactions are not Ana (anaphylactic). I thought my kid outgrew his allergy to milk because it wasn’t making him violently ill any more. Little did I know the throat clearing, asthma and eczema were his immune responses to it.” – Rebecca
- “Do not be afraid to use an epi pen. Read labels/ recheck every time after and don’t forget the scientific names. If you don’t feel safe do not go. Plan ahead, plan ahead and plan ahead. Be careful with shopping carts, high chairs, tables, etc., food protein can stick for a long time. Believe in your guts.” – Cindy
- “Food is EVERYWHERE. This is one of those things you don’t really notice until you have to deal with a food allergy or any other dietary restrictions. Treats are offered or at least present in the classroom at school (a lot), doctors offices, banks and other businesses, of course birthday parties and all holiday parties, church, playgrounds, etc. the list just goes on. I had no idea how much food (and junk food at that) people consumed until we found out about my daughter’s allergy. Every time I turn around kids are eating or being offered candy or snacks. Just stock up on safe treats and never assume there won’t be food where you’re going.” – Courtney
- “Get an insulated bag for snacks and your epi pens. That way you always have supplies, and your epi pens don’t overheat.” – Beth
- “Realize many people will think you are being a drama queen. They don’t take it seriously because they never dealt with it. So my advice…is get thick skin and smile through gritted teeth Also, I have 3 kits for his allergy meds. One in my purse, 1 in the kitchen for easy grabbing, 1 in our to-go, for outdoor activities.” – Sarah
- “Be prepared to get looks like you wouldn’t believe when you ask questions. People, even people you know may think you are crazy and over protective. I just look at them like they are crazy back ;)” – Kelly
- “Learn to speak up and be your child’s advocate – even with friends and family. Your child’s life is at risk, don’t be afraid to speak up! Read every label every time. Learn to cook and bake, don’t trust others who tell you it’s safe- you must KNOW the ingredients and how it was prepared. Don’t let the school (and other parents) bully you. It’s always better to Epi than not to. Your child can DIE. Take this seriously.” – Dawn
- “We are often as moms on high alert looking to protect our kids at every turn. It can be emotionally exhausting and overwhelming. Join groups, find support systems you can turn to and know you are not alone” – Jody
- “Teach your child to be their own advocate and to not accept food from others. My son is 3 and people always offer him food but he knows to ask mommy or daddy first. He knows to say “is this safe for me”. We use trips to Costco to learn what the different types of nuts look like. He saw a peanut shell on the beach the other day and knew to avoid it.” – Tracy
- “Read every label, every time. Learn the labeling laws, call for cross contamination risks. Create a safe haven by removing allergens from your home. Always carry two epinephrine auto injectors. Learn to recognize anaphylaxis. Join a support group. Be an advocate for your child. Give age appropriate instruction about their allergies to children. Carry safe foods. Get a medical bracelet or dog tag for your child. Read food allergies books to educate yourself and family. Learn to cook and bake safe foods. Ask questions of your allergist/doctor. School age kids need a 504 to insure their safety and inclusion. Build FA (food allergy) awareness in your family and friends. Don’t hesitate to use the Epi. Be careful when eating out. Some things are just too risky. Empathize the positive with your child, what they can eat, not what they can’t have-what they can do, not what they can’t. Be honest with your child.” – Vivian
Other resources for learning about food allergies:
Do you or someone you know have food allergies? What are some tips or advice you have to share?