Everything you Need to Know About Food Allergies
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. This diagnosis should only be by a registered healthcare professional.
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 the majority of kids outgrow an allergy; only 1% of adults have a food allergy. However, adults can also 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!
As well as some more information below on how allergens are labelled and who to inform, we have provided a number of links at the bottom of this section, which contain more useful resources.
Clearly label allergens or ban them entirely from your home.
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.
Read all labels every time you buy something. Cook with safe ingredients, in a clean environment, while avoiding cross-contact.
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, so make sure you and your family are well versed in the art of food label decoding, which can be a bit tricky sometimes.
A good option is to 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!
Inform and educate all caretakers and teachers
A good starting point could be to 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!
Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia has a great Toolkit for Schools which provides information on how to keep children safe – awareness, avoidance and action. Knowing what classmates are allergic to, never sharing food and always washing hands before eating and recognising when someone with allergies looks sick.
Food Allergy Management Support Initiatives and Resources
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.
ASCIA (Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy)
Food Standards – Australia and New Zealand: Information on Food Allergen Labelling
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 the consumption of junk food, three or more times a week, has been found to have an increase the risk of having severe asthma, rhinoconjunctivitis and eczema in teens and children.
There is, in fact, scientific evidence that proves this; a recent study that was released in 2013 discovered a positive association between the consumption of junk food and the prevalence of eczema, asthma and rhinitis in teens. The pattern was still present in children, but the association was found to be weaker. One possibility is that, on the whole, teens eat more junk food.
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 fast 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 foods are consistently connected with respiratory problems in young kids and teens, all around the world. It looks like this relationship is related to the higher saturated fatty acids, trans fatty acids, sodium, carbohydrates and sugar levels in fast food and possibly preservatives. Fast food is also rich in industrially hydrogenated vegetable fats such as margarine which are dietary sources of trans fatty acids, and there is some evidence that dietary intake of trans fatty acids is associated with asthma and atopy.
This is why every parent should be aware of what their children are consuming; by educating themselves and staying up-to-date with 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.
 Nutrition Australia, Food Allergy website: http://www.nutritionaustralia.org/national/resource/food-allergy (accessed 16 Feb 2017)
 Ellwood P, Asher MI, Gacía-Marcos L et al. Do fast foods cause asthma, rhinoconjunctivitis and eczema? Global findings from the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC) Phrase three. Thorax, doi:10.1136/thoraxjnl-2012-202285