Living with a Child with Food Allergies

Living with a child with food allergies

Though the experts cannot seem to agree on why, the fact is that food allergies among children are on the rise. By some estimates they have risen as much as 50% in the last 5 years. This means that parents today are more likely than ever to encounter food allergies, either in their own children, their children’s friends and relatives, or classmates. This article aims to provide basic information to parents regardless of which one of these situations they find themselves in.

Though the experts cannot seem to agree on why, the fact is that food allergies among children are on the rise. By some estimates they have risen as much as 50% in the last 5 years. This means that parents today are more likely than ever to encounter food allergies, either in their own children, their children’s friends and relatives, or classmates. This article aims to provide basic information to parents regardless of which one of these situations they find themselves in.

Though the experts cannot seem to agree on why, the fact is that food allergies among children are on the rise. By some estimates they have risen as much as 50% in the last 5 years. This means that parents today are more likely than ever to encounter food allergies, either in their own children, their children’s friends and relatives, or classmates. This article aims to provide basic information to parents regardless of which one of these situations they find themselves in.

Step one: Get information.
There are many sources of information available today but when faced with something as important as health it is imperative to get information from reliable sources. An allergist is your best bet for having your child tested to confirm any suspected food allergies. To find one in your area you can speak to your pediatrician or your insurance company but your best bet is often word of mouth.

To get the most from your first visit to the allergist be prepared by being able to recount the events that led up to the visit. Foods eaten and specific reactions you have observed. Also determine if there are family members with food allergies as this can help your allergist in forming a comprehensive conceptualization of your case.

If your child tests positive be sure to ask questions regarding how to deal with the allergies. Important questions can include, but are not limited to:

How to treat an allergic reaction?
Which foods and products to avoid?
How severe is the allergy?
What is the expected course�will it worsen or can it be outgrown?
When should the child return to the allergist?

Also be aware of any other names your child’s allergen may be known by and non-food products that you may need to avoid. For example, nut and plant ingredients often show up in household cleaning products, massage oils, shampoos and even sunscreen and toiletries.

If you encounter a food allergic child in your classroom or circle of friends, you also need reliable information. The child’s parents should be a valuable source of information. The most important thing for you to know is that the risks to this child are real. The inconveniences that accomodating their allergies may cause you ARE worth it. Food allergies are responsible for anumber of deaths each year. Furthermore, a serious but non-fatal reaction can leave a child with anxiety and long-lasting fear since the symptoms they experience and the emergency treatment that results can be frightening. You can do your part to help avoid these situations while teaching your own child one important aspect of being a good friend.

Step two: Get support
If you get the dreaded information that your child does have food allergies, you’re your perspective. It can be overwhelming to find out your child has an allergy to a common and difficult to avoid ingredient such as wheat. It can be daunting to be given a list of multiple food allergies that seem to make a healthy, balanced diet all but impossible. Most of all it can be frightening to hear your child has a potentially life-threatening allergy, such as the anaphylaxis many people with peanut allergy can suffer. No matter what the specific situation, it can be emotionally draining to be ever vigilant of your child’s diet so you need to establish a support system.

Hopefully, family members will play an important role in helping you to keep your child safe. Educate everyone your child comes in contact with, even if you cannot conceive of a situation where they would be in charge of feeding your child. Shortly after we had moved into our new home the neighbor’s children were playing with my son in our front yard. When the neighbor emerged I asked her to supervise the kids for a minute while I took a much needed bathroom break. By the time I returned the children had decided they were hungry, gotten peanut butter crackers from the pantry and offered them to my son. He barely nibbled on the cracker, likely not directly consuming any peanut butter but before all was said and done I had to call 911 to have my son’s reaction evaluated and treated. Now, I announce my child’s allergy at any large gatherings and tell anyone who comes to our home.

You can also seek (or start!) local support groups or find support via internet based groups. An important resource can be the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) which provides multiple resources including allergy related products, allergy free recipes, literature and important allergy alerts. You can visit them outline at www.foodallergy.org.

Step Three: Get used to it!
You CAN learn to live with your child’s food allergy. When my son was first diagnosed with his potentially life-threatening peanut allergy I left the allergist’s office, sat in my car and cried. Then I called my husband told him the news and told him we could never go out to eat again. Thankfully I have since learned that while we do have challenges, this is a manageable condition.

Of course the most important adjustments to make are what you and other family members eat. In some cases it is necessary to keep allergens out of the home altogether so siblings and parents may have to give up certain foods as well. This also means you must become a detective. You MUST read every label on every thing that goes into your child’s mouth! You cannot rely on common sense to judge likely places for ingredients to pop up. For example, I have found peanuts as ingredients in pizza (peanut flour), chili (used as a thickening agent), and fast food (fried in peanut oil).

You may have to adjust your dining out habits. Some restaurants may simply be too dangerous, such as Thai restaurants for those allergic to peanuts. Also, you will have to discuss your child’s food allergy with wait staff, chefs and/or management when you do dine out. Depending on the allergy you may want to take precautions such as cleaning surfaces at restaurants before you eat.

School can present a particularly difficult challenge. Work closely with school personnel, including teachers, principals, guidance counselors and cafeteria staff. For young children, you might want to have a children’s book on the topic that you or the teacher can read to the class to help explain your child’s allergy. Some titles include Allie the Allergic Elephant by Nicole Smith; The Peanut Butter Jam by Elizabeth Sussman Nassau and Margot Janet Ott ; and The Peanut Pickle by Jessica Ureel.

Armed with information and bolstered by your support network you and your family can successfully adjust to this new challenge.

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