Coping With Food Allergies
The good news is that most children will outgrow most of their food allergies, but until they do, making wise food choices can be life saving.
Get Educated About Food
"One important rule of thumb is to read food labels carefully," says Dr. Lenora Noroski, allergy and immunology specialist at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, Texas, and assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine. "Food labels may not use familiar language in listing ingredients, and some food items contain protein or food element that is not expected."
For instance, if a child has a milk allergy, it's important to know that nougat indicates the presence of milk. Another example is chocolate bars or candies that may contain peanut even though the product is not sold as a peanut-containing item.
Talk With Your Doctor
When parents suspect a food allergy in their child, it is important to discuss the clinical concerns associated with food intake with a pediatrician promptly. The pediatrician may recommend further evaluation by an allergist. In most cases, when the food allergen is identified and the family receives specific education about food allergy prevention and intervention, further reactions can be prevented or minimized.
Dr. Noroski suggests educating family members, caregivers and teachers about a child's food allergies. "Most people don't understand how serious a food allergy can be, and may think it's OK to give a child a small amount of that food," she says.
Reactions that may be caused by food allergy include: wheezing, skin rashes, hives, vomiting, abdominal cramping and diarrhea. Even more severe reactions include swelling and tingling of the mouth, tongue and throat; difficulty breathing; decreased blood pressure; shock; and even death.
Dr. Noroski also provides the following helpful hints in coping with an allergy-prone child:
- While it is true that most children outgrow most food allergies, it is recommended that you consult with your pediatrician and allergist before reintroducing any food that has caused a reaction in the past.
- When preparing foods for allergy-prone children, you can maintain a safe and healthy approach that is still fun. Work with the acceptable food items and involve your child in food preparation. Obtain food allergic-friendly recipes from your allergist's or pediatrician's dietician.
- Discourage your child from food trading with their friends. Quite often children will "trade" lunches with each other at school. This practice can be harmful. Avoiding such practices can be lifesaving.
- Work with your physician to create and use your customized Food Allergy Action Plan (downloadable from www.foodallergy.org).
Food Allergy Facts
- Food allergies affect approximately 7 percent of children and 2 percent of adults. Most children outgrow food allergies by the time they are 5 years old. However, most peanut-allergic patients maintain their allergy and must strictly avoid all peanuts and any food containing or at risk of containing peanut or peanut oil.
- The most common foods that cause allergies are: eggs, cow's milk, soy, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish.
- Reactions to food allergies can develop quickly after a child has
ingested an allergic food – often within minutes or hours. The reaction
can be limited to the skin or progressive with risk of life-threatening
respiratory distress or vascular collapse.