Parents of kids with food allergies have the challenge of teaching children -- often from a very young age -- to manage a chronic health condition while maintaining a positive attitude. At the same time, there are often constant issues with keeping kids safe in social settings, training babysitters and school personnel to recognize and manage food allergies, and maintaining family normalcy during events where food often plays a central role. From the initial diagnosis to holiday food safety, here are some resources for families with allergic children.
1. Getting a Diagnosis
Sometimes the initial signs of a food allergy are obvious -- severe hives, breathing difficulty, or signs of anaphylaxis soon after eating are usually a dead giveaway to parents and doctors alike. Not all allergic reactions are this clear-cut, though, and some painful reactions to food are actually food intolerances (unpleasant responses that don't involve the immune system). Even in kids who have experienced an obvious reaction, allergy testing will likely be used to determine whether your child is allergic to more than one food, or to assess how severe your child's allergies are and the prognosis for outgrowing food allergies.
2. Common Food Allergies in Children
While any food can cause an allergic reaction, some are more common than others among young children. Peanut and tree nut allergies are among the highest-profile allergies because of their potential for anaphylaxis, but dairy allergies are actually more common in kids. Egg allergies are another common allergy in young children, especially those with eczema. Fish and shellfish allergies, which are common among adults, are rarer among children, but soy and wheat allergies are relatively common in this age group. Some allergies -- notably soy, eggs, and dairy -- are considered fairly likely to be outgrown.
3. Reading Labels
No matter which food allergy your child is diagnosed with, you'll need to develop your label-reading skills and do it every time -- even with foods you've bought many times before. FDA labeling regulations are immensely useful for those diagnosed with the "big eight" most common food allergies (though they do little for those with other food allergies), and the FDA also periodically recalls foods whose labels don't adequately represent the presence of these allergens. Be aware of the potential for allergens in non-food sources like cosmetics and craft products.
4. Eating Allergen-Free
The treatment for food allergies is a diet free from allergens. The choice of whether to keep your entire residence allergen-free varies among families and will depend in part on the severity of your child's allergies, the age of your allergic children, and how responsible you can expect other members of the family to be with respect to cleaning utensils and other items that could get contaminated with allergens. Regardless of your decision, your allergic child's health depends on eating food that's kept strictly free of allergens, whether at home, at restaurants, or when visiting friends or family.
5. Special Concerns for Infants and Toddlers
Parents of infants in families where an older sibling has already been diagnosed with a food allergy are often concerned about the potential for the younger child to develop food allergies, given that allergies have a genetic component. Toddlers pose unique challenges because they can't speak for themselves and adults may give them food without being aware of their allergies. Clothing that indicates their food allergies is one way to prevent this problem.
6. School and Food Allergies
From a public interest perspective, nut-free classrooms are the most prominent issue surrounding allergies and schools. But any food allergy will require planning in a school setting, whether preschool or beyond. Some parents choose to formalize their child's medical arrangements with a 504 Plan, a legal document outlining plans and responsibilities for disabilities and medical issues in schools.
7. Common Social Situations
So many social events revolve around food: parties, holidays, you name it. Any event where food is around is a potentially dangerous situation for a child with a food allergy. But with planning, you can mitigate the risks of these situations and let your child participate in as many events as possible.