Food allergies can range from mildly annoying to mind-numbingly scary, especially when it’s your child that’s experiencing an allergic reaction. Managing food allergies, however, is not that difficult, and you will need to take matters into your own hands in order to ensure that your child is well protected from allergens not only in your home, but everywhere else as well.
What are food allergies?
You might discover that your kid seems to have a mild intolerance to a specific food type at some point, however you will need to get your child tested for allergies before you can be sure that you are, in fact, dealing with a full-blown allergy. For example, a child might be lactose intolerant, so they may experience adverse effects after consuming dairy products or milk, however that doesn’t mean that the child is allergic to the milk. A food-related allergy can be diagnosed only when a specific ingredient ends up causing an actual immune response in a child’s system.
Common Food Allergens
Around 5% of kids develop a food allergy during their early years. Most common food allergies in kids have to do with eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds, wheat, soy and milk, whereas adults are more often allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, seeds and eggs. It’s important to remember, however, that kids can outgrow an allergy, and adults can develop new ones. This is why you should always introduce new foods gradually, and try and see if your child gets any adverse reactions, before letting them eat to their heart’s content.
Common Allergy Reactions
An allergic reaction can occur even when minuscule tidbits of the offending food are consumed, because the child’s body considers any amount of this particular substance a threat, and starts reacting to it in a wide variety of ways. Allergic reactions typically include -but are not limited to- rashes, swelling, dizziness, fainting, stomach aches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and a sense of impending doom. In serious cases, the child may even suffer an anaphylactic shock, which can be fatal if left untreated, moments after ingesting an allergen!
How to Manage Your Child’s Reactions
It’s important to realise that if your child has been diagnosed with a food allergy, even if it’s a severe case, it’s not really the end of the world for either of you. Your child can still get all the nourishment they need from other sources, and their quality of life doesn’t have to suffer at all. We have a few tips that can help you manage your child’s food allergies, and teach them how to protect themselves in the long run.
Upon getting a diagnosis, it is imperative that you enlist the help of your child’s doctor, since they are your best bet to start working towards a lifestyle that doesn’t threaten your child’s well-being.
Your doctor can provide you with thorough information about your child’s food allergies, and they can also help you create and assemble an allergy emergency kit for your child, which can be an invaluable tool to help you teach all of the people in your child’s life about their condition. It should also contain a written copy of your child’s emergency care plan, with step-by-step instructions on what to do in case of a severe reaction, so that everyone can be up-to-date and alert.
They will also teach you how to give your child an epinephrine injection using an EpiPen, which is the go-to solution in case of anaphylactic shock, and explain how you can teach other people in your child’s life how to step up and take care of them, if needed. You will need to stock up on these, and keep two EpiPens close to your child at all times.
Once you have established what is safe to eat and what’s not, you will have to make an important decision; do you ban the offending food from your household, or not? There is no right or wrong decision here, so you should do what makes you feel more comfortable, since it all depends on your child’s age, their maturity level, the type and severity of their food allergies, as well as on your family’s lifestyle
It’s imperative that you, your family and your child (provided they’re old enough) always check the label of everything you purchase every time, to ensure that there are no harmful ingredients, even if you’ve already purchased the item in the past. Companies change their recipes all the time, and you don’t want to accidentally feed your child something that will trigger a reaction.
There are many informative resources on how to correctly read labels available online (such as this one), so make sure you and your family are well versed in the art of food label decoding, which can be a bit tricky sometimes.
You should probably prepare your child’s food on a daily basis, too, because it’s the only way you can be absolutely certain that it’s safe for them to eat it. You should stick to safe ingredients only, and substitute any and all offending food with other ingredients. Even eggs and milk can be substituted with other types of food, so do some research online, and you will be able to keep cooking your family’s favourite recipes -you’ll just have to alter them!
You should explain the situation to everyone involved in taking care of your child or providing them with food, from babysitters, teachers and family members, to the mother of your child’s classmate who’s throwing them a birthday party. Everyone needs to be aware of your child’s food allergies, and to be prepared for an allergic shock. Teach them how to use the EpiPen, and inform them about the severity of your child’s allergies. Don’t shy away from explaining this to everyone, since it’s the kind of information that can save your child’s life!
Finally, you will have to take it upon yourself to find safe entertainment venues for your child. You can still take your family out for a nice dinner, of course, but make sure you talk to the manager, to ensure that the establishment’s methods of cooking and cleaning are safe for your child.
Remember; even the tiniest bit of the offending food can trigger a reaction, so make sure you pass this knowledge along to the restaurant’s manager. Don’t worry, most restaurants deal with this type of situation often, and they are professional enough to take the necessary precautions to avoid cross-contact. Still, communicating the issue clearly can help you avoid any problems, and keep your child healthy and happy.
Health Risks Associated with Junk Food
Even if your kid isn’t really allergic to a specific food type, though, that doesn’t mean that you’re in the clear. It is imperative to establish good eating habits at a young age, especially since junk food has been found to create (or aggravate any pre-existing) respiratory problems, such as asthma and rhinitis, in kids and teens.
There is, in fact, scientific evidence that proves this; a recent study that was released in 2013 discovered a clear and consistent connection between the consumption of junk food and the appearance of eczema, asthma and rhinitis in kids.
With a considerable sample size of 319,000 teens (ages thirteen to fourteen) from over 50 countries, along with more than 181,000 kids (ages six to seven) from 31 countries, this study provides a solid foundation to discovering the effects of low quality food on kids’ bodies.
Eating fast food meals at least three times a week means that there is a 39% increased risk of severe asthma in teens, and a 27% increased risk among kids aged six to seven. Three or more servings of fruit, on the other hand, seems to have the opposite effect, as it decreases said risk by 11% in teens, and it can lead to a 14% drop in asthma attack severity in younger kids.
The study discovered that junk food and fatty and processed meals are consistently connected with respiratory problems in young kids and teens, all around the world. It looks like a great number of kids’ systems just cannot deal with low quality food, which means that they are having adverse reactions to junk food, even if they are not diagnosed as allergic to any specific ingredient.
This is why every parent should be aware of what their children are consuming; by educating themselves and staying up-to-date with scientific information regarding the effects of each food type on their kids’ bodies, they will have a better chance of preventing any adverse food-related reactions.
Reaching out to other families who are managing their kids’ food allergies, in order to exchange tips and support each other, can be very helpful. There are also plenty of initiatives that are aimed at raising awareness about the issue of food allergies, such as the annual Food Allergy Week in Australia. They strive to educate people on the importance of reducing the risk of a reaction, and of managing emergencies, such as helping someone who is experiencing an anaphylactic shock.