I don’t know about you, but it was RARE to know someone with a food allergy when I was growing up. In fact, I can’t think of anyone that I knew who had any food allergies as a child. I have read a few different viewpoints as to why it is believed there are an increasing number of food allergies, but I will leave that to the experts. This article’s purpose is to explain what food allergies are and to educate mothers and fathers (and parents-to-be) about the best ways to handle them.
I will begin with a quick overview. A food allergy is an attack by the body’s immune system on a normally harmless food protein that it thinks is a germ (such as bacteria or viruses). The immune system produces an abnormally large amount of an antibody called immunoglobulin E- IgE for short- and it fights the “enemy” by releasing histamine and other chemicals which trigger the allergic reaction (FARE website).
The most severe allergic reactions can result in anaphylaxis, a sudden drop in blood pressure that can be fatal if not treated quickly. When children are diagnosed with one of these allergies, doctors will prescribe epinephrine, an auto-injectable medication that reverses the symptoms of anaphylaxis (Web MD). This has to be carried with the child at all times and can be administered at the first sign of symptoms. Peanut, tree nut and seafood allergies are the most common types that cause anaphylaxis. Most other food allergies, such as dairy, gluten, eggs, etc. may cause hives or other less severe symptoms that can be treated with an antihistamine.
According to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), 1 in 13 children are affected by food allergies. That is a staggering number meaning that many parents are having to learn to deal with their children’s allergies everyday. How can you know if your child has a food allergy? Like many other families, we suspected our daughter had a food allergy when her face and hands swelled and reddened after helping me in the kitchen. We were making a dish using pecans and quickly realized something was wrong. Fortunately she did not swallow any nuts and we were able to stop the reaction with Benadryl. We were careful to avoid pecans for months following, but then discovered that walnuts also caused her to swell and redden after making Christmas cookies. We then had her allergy tested and were prescribed an EpiPen Jr. to carry.
We are so thankful to have discovered her allergy without much incident, but now we live a strangely different life. We read labels on everything and know the difference between “may contain tree nuts” and “produced in a factory that may contain tree nuts” and “produced on equipment used for tree nuts”. My purse is twice as heavy with a bottle of Benadryl and an EpiPen Jr. The most difficult change, however, is that our daughter cannot enjoy any of the same snacks or treats her friends do at preschool. Each day a friend brings a special treat to share with the class and she has to have the boring snack mommy provided that stays in the closet of the classroom. This doesn’t sound so bad to me- obviously I know the true consequences of eating that homemade cookie accidently “laced” with almond extract-but she just sees fun cookies on her friends’ plates’ and pretzels on hers. Life with allergies can be different, but here are some great ideas to help make life with allergies simpler with little ones.
Cook more allergy-free treats at home with your child. My daughter loves baking, and as long as it comes from my kitchen, I know it is safe!
Carry a special pouch or bag with the EpiPen and Benadryl. Our daughter’s is fun and girly so she wants to take it with her to parties, etc.
Find any number of fun and stylish medical bracelets to alert others of your child’s allergy. Try allberling.com, mediband.com/kids and starallergyalerts.com.
Google “Food Allergy Apps” and find one that can assist you. They now have apps that can do everything from scan a food item’s barcode and alert you to potential dangers to help you find a restaurant that can accommodate your child’s allergy.