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What Parents Need to Know About Food Allergies

Recent studies have shown that about 5% of preschoolers in the United States have been diagnosed with a food allergy. Schools are developing policies to help limit the number of allergic reactions and are training staff to handle emergencies, but there is still more work to be done to ensure a safe environment. Nowadays, children are forced to exercise caution when interacting with others. Those that possess severe food allergies are often forced to sit by themselves during school lunch and snack-time for fear of cross-contamination. Additionally, restaurants, birthday parties, and holiday get-togethers are becoming riskier to attend. Managing a child’s food allergy isn’t easy and can often put an emotional toll on the family. However, the earlier that a condition is diagnosed, the better off your child will be in the long term. Below is some information to consider if you suspect your child has a food allergy.

Diagnosing Kids with Food Allergies:

A child can develop an allergy to any food but common food allergens include nuts, dairy, wheat, and fish products. Allergic reactions can vary by individual, ranging from a mild hive outbreak on one part of the body to a more severe flare-up such as nausea, heartburn, or vomiting. A significant symptom of allergies is also eczema, so if your child frequently has patches of inflamed, itchy, and red skin, he or she might be eating a trigger food. An outbreak is time-sensitive, occurring from a few minutes up to a few hours after contact with the food. While not all reactions can be serious or life-threatening, a person can experience anaphylactic shock which leads to swelling of the airway, difficulty breathing, and in rare cases, death.

Treating Food Allergies and Allergy Testing:

If you suspect that your child has a food allergy, do not attempt to self-diagnose and instead, contact your physician. Do not limit a baby’s diet prior to consulting him or her. The doctor will inquire about symptoms, how often the reaction occurs, the time between eating a certain type of food and the onset of symptoms, and whether particular allergies run in the family. Afterward, your doctor will refer you to an allergy specialist who will then ask more questions and order additional testing such as a skin test or blood tests to help make a diagnosis. Early diagnosis is an essential component of receiving treatment and preventing further or worsening outbreaks.

Managing Food Allergies in Infants and During Pregnancy:

Pregnant moms can reduce their child’s risk of developing a food allergy by eating a Mediterranean diet that includes lots of vegetables and fruits, whole grains healthy fats, and nuts. The diet has been shown in many studies to be helpful in reducing the risk for diabetes and heart disease. While a pregnancy diet should be balanced, it’s important to make sure you pay careful attention to what types of food you consume. For instance, it’s well-known that expectant mothers should stay away from raw meat, certain types of fish, raw eggs and soft cheeses, unpasteurized milk and juices, including fresh-squeezed ones, and of course, stay away from alcohol. After the baby is born, try to introduce foods from an early age since this will lessen the chances of raising a picky eater and can prevent food allergy in infants and children. Recently, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases released formal and detailed guidelines suggesting that early exposure to peanuts in children as young as 4 to 6 months under the care of their doctor might prevent a child from developing a peanut allergy later on in life. However, parents should always consult with their pediatrician prior to introducing common allergens to the child.

Additional Management Tips:

Research is an important component of controlling a food allergy. Make sure that you do your due diligence and seek out data and updates from reputable news outlets and websites. Be vigilant about what can trigger an outbreak and always read the packaging and ingredient information on food labels. Labels may also include processing and manufacturing details, highlighting cross-contamination risks. It helps to look into recipes that are safe and reliable to integrate into household meals. Parents might want to consider asking their child to assist in preparation and cooking time to give them semblance of control over their meals so they don’t feel alienated about what he or she can’t eat.

Furthermore, get your child’s educational faculty involved by organizing an allergy kit that has an emergency response checklist, medications and instructions, an epi-pen, safe snacks, and important phone numbers. You, your child, a caregiver, or the teacher must always have it on hand. An additional step is to make sure your child has a personalized alert label or bracelet that calls attention to his or her needs. Finally, enlist the support of family, friends, educators, and caregivers. They can serve as an extra set of eyes and assist in keeping your child safe from trigger foods. Share your information with them so they can understand the allergens and provide assistance where needed.

Difference Between Food Allergies and Food Intolerance:

Children can have a delayed immune reaction as a result of a food sensitivity, developing it over time. Signs that indicate your child has a food sensitivity include but are not limited to stomachaches, fatigue, and constipation. Even though they share similar symptoms, a sensitivity to certain types of food should not be confused with allergens since it is not considered to be dangerous in the same way. Certain types of food intolerance include histamine, wheat and gluten, yeast, and diary. While food allergies can be diagnosed, the best way to identify a response to food is through the use of an elimination diet, followed by a phase in which you re-introduce the food and observe for symptoms.

Additional Types of Allergies and Stings:

Bee and Wasp Stings: Treating bee and wasp stings depends on their severity. The majority of time, people are not allergic to them and treatment for the wound can be administered at home. If the person has a history of severe allergy reactions, call 911, especially if the person has trouble breathing or is feeling faint and dizzy.

Mosquito Bites: Mosquito bites are the itchy welts that children and even adults can’t stop scratching. In children and people with immune system disorders, symptoms can include a large area of swelling and redness, low-grade fever, hives, or a headache. If a child has a non-reaction, he or she isn’t allergic to mosquito saliva or has developed an immunity to them after repeated exposure. Typically, the common reaction to bites is a round, white-ish bump that clears up on its own after a few days have passed.

Tick Bites: Symptoms of a tick bite can generate flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache, vomiting, and muscle aches. Common reactions are local swelling and irritation at the site of a tick bite. Tick bites aren’t painful but can cause Lyme Disease.

Lice: Itching is the most common symptom of all types of lice infestation and is caused by an allergic reaction from the saliva. It may take several weeks or months for itching to begin or be noticed by the individual. Symptoms of lice also vary depending on which type of lice is present.

Household Products: Chemicals found in common household products could aggravate your allergies, even if you’ve had prior exposure to them. One of the first symptoms of an allergic reaction to shampoo, conditioner, and detergent is a rash, commonly referred to as “dermatitis” by physicians. The signs can appear anywhere from 24 hours to a week after the interaction. Cleaning products that possess strong noxious odors, i.e., ammonia as well as products such as air fresheners and cleaning sprays should be avoided. Weekly use of these sprays has been linked to increases in rates of asthma and wheezing. If you are using natural cleaning products, make sure that they have the “Green Seal of Approval” listed on them.

Enlisting the Support of Caregivers:

Caregivers should always be made aware of allergies in the household and know the appropriate safety protocols to follow. Additional safety tips can be found here. At the Nanny Authority, our nannies have experience working with children with various allergies and are equipped to handle emergency situations. If you require a candidate with experience in allergies, contact us at 973-466-2669 or via e-mail for more information today!