According to a 2007 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately three million children under the age of 18 have experienced a food or digestive allergy in the past year. This figure has continued to increase, prompting extensive research from federal and private organizations alike. While some children seem to outgrow their allergies, many must learn to live with their condition. Fortunately, there are steps that parents and health care providers can take to educate kids about food allergies.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines a food allergy as any abnormal response to food triggered by a body’s immune system. Common problem foods for children include eggs, milk and peanuts. Sadly, some allergic reactions to food can cause serious illness or death. Since this is a worrying fact of life for many kids and their parents, the NIH has created a network of tools and resources for helping spread information and tips (www.nih.gov).
The NIH points to the Nemours Foundation as a useful source of information about food allergies in kids. On its website, www.kidshealth.org, the foundation provides lots of info for parents, kids and teens. Nemours notes that milk, eggs, peanuts, soy, wheat, tree nuts, fish and shellfish account for 90 percent of all reactions in children. They advise watching for symptoms like hives, swollen lips, abdominal pain, nausea, wheezing, congestion and lightheadedness. Inform your doctor immediately if your child complains of discomfort after eating.
Once an allergy has been diagnosed, it’s important to talk with your child about his or her eating habits. Those with severe reactions should wear a medical alert bracelet and carry an epinephrine autoinjector (EpiPen) if required. The Mayo Clinic recommends notifying key people – teachers, friends, babysitters, coaches – about the food allergy; you should also create an “action plan” to instruct others what to do if your child starts having a reaction. Talk to young children about sharing snacks with others at school or birthday parties. Once they get older, learning how to read food labels and recognize troublesome ingredients is another helpful precautionary measure.
You can find more information and tips from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). Websites like kidshealth.org also offer games and other interactive materials, so kids will have fun while learning about food safety.
Food allergies don’t have to prevent children and teens from living full, healthy lives. By understanding howto avoid certain ingredients and handle reaction symptoms, both kids and parents can feel in control in any situation.