Food allergies in children can be a major stress for parents. Watching your child break out in skin rashes or have difficulty breathing is disturbing to say the least. And with all the ways kids share foods and interact together, it can be particularly challenging trying to control so many variables. A study conducted by F.A.R.E. (Food Allergy Research Education) estimates that 32 million Americans have food allergies, and 5.6 million are children.
Presently, there are no cures for food allergies. Therefore, the best way to prevent food allergies is to avoid the foods that trigger the reaction. As a parent, how can you keep your children from having allergic reactions to food?
A food allergy, like other types of allergies (pollen, pet hair, antibiotics) occurs because the body’s immune system overreacts to an element within the food. In the case of a food allergy, the allergen is a food protein that is completely harmless. In some people, the body’s immune system sees this protein as an immediate and severe threat and creates an immune response in the hopes of destroying this invader.
Science isn’t exactly sure yet why some people’s bodies react to certain foods with an allergic response. Family history does appear to play a role. Additionally, children and adults with a food allergy are more likely to experience other types of allergic conditions like eczema, asthma, and hay fever.
Many things can cause allergic reactions, but food is the most common.
Foods that typically cause allergies in children are as follows:
Other foods may trigger allergic reactions in children. But the ones listed above tend to cause the most severe reactions. These allergic reactions may go away when children turn five years old because they typically outgrow the allergy. However, nut, fish, and shellfish allergies may last a lifetime.
If your child has gotten sick from eating a particular food, you may conclude that it is an allergy. However, it may be that your child has experienced food intolerance. This is drastically different from a food allergy because it does not affect the immune system. Food intolerance is when the body can’t digest particular food properly. This is a prevalent issue with cow’s milk.
Some people, including children, are lactose intolerant. It doesn’t mean that they are allergic to cow milk itself. It means that the sugar in the milk, lactose, may be causing the sensitivity. In such cases, your child may still be able to consume cow’s milk. However, it cannot contain lactose.
A food allergy affects the immune system. Unlike food intolerance, a food allergy affects your body organs and can range from severe to life-threatening. Keep in mind that your child’s adverse reaction to food could also be food poisoning.
If you wonder whether your child is having an allergic reaction, here are a few common symptoms:
According to a revised study funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, peanut allergy is the leading cause of food-induced anaphylaxis. If your child is allergic to peanuts, you will have to take precautions to protect them from foods with peanuts. Although mortality is exceptionally low, severe and life-threatening allergic reactions to this food product are common.
If you want to be proactive about determining if your child has allergies, your doctor can conduct tests. Your family physician may perform a blood test to check for IgE antibodies to allergens in the blood. Another test is a skin test. Your family doctor places liquid extracts from certain foods on your child’s forearm followed by a prick. The doctor will wait 15 minutes to see if an allergic reaction develops.
Some allergic reactions, while severe, may not be life-threatening. In such cases, your child may experience hives, runny nose, or belly pain. Antihistamines can treat mild symptoms of a food allergy. If your child experiences life-threatening reactions, known as anaphylaxis, you may need to administer a shot into your child’s thigh.
Emergency epinephrine shots such as Adrenaclick, Auvi-Q, or EpiPen can stop a life-threatening allergic reaction in a child. Even after administering the epinephrine shot, you should contact emergency personnel to ensure that your child is alright.
Another treatment that Johns Hopkins All Children’s Food Allergy Clinic is implementing is oral immunotherapy for peanut-allergic children. This method involves introducing your child to small portions of peanuts and increasing it over time. The goal of this treatment is to desensitize a child to peanut allergy.
The best way to prevent allergies in your child is to avoid the foods that trigger such allergies. The Food Allergy Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 may provide parents with some protections. Under this law, manufacturers must include common allergens contained in their food on their product labels. Even if a manufacturer uses an allergy-causing food for flavoring, they must disclose this information.
You will typically see statements on labels such as “may contain” or “might contain” the said allergen. Labeling may also disclose if the product was made near the food known to cause allergies. When eating out, be sure to let the server know about the food allergen. The server can inform the chef to avoid preparing meals on the same surfaces of the food that causes allergies.
Another way to prevent food allergies is to buy alternative foods. There are substitutes on the market for people with Food sensitivities, such as egg and milk substitutes. There are also products like foods you typically eat without the allergen included, such as wheat or gluten.
One of the most challenging things to do is protect children from food allergies while they are at school. As a parent, you may have to provide prepared meals for your child. Or you will have to work closely with your child’s school to make sure that they are aware of your child’s allergies. It is also helpful to teach your child how to recognize foods they are allergic to, so they won’t consume them. It also helps if you teach your child not to share foods.
Dealing with a child with food allergies can be frightening. Small amounts of the allergen can cause the most adverse reactions. They can even be life-threatening. However, your child can live with food allergies if you take the precautions necessary to minimize foods that cause allergies. Keep in mind that some children outgrow allergies as they age.