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Coping with Children's Food Allergies

Approximately 2 to 4 percent of children have allergic reactions to food. Food allergies occur when the body sees a food as harmful and causes the immune system to release massive amounts of a chemical called histamine, which triggers the allergic reaction. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, symptoms of an allergic reaction can include:

  • Chest tightness, shortness of breath, or wheezing
  • Hives, skin rashes, itching, or flushing
  • Runny nose or sneezing
  • Itchy or tearing eyes
  • Nausea, vomiting, colic, cramps, or diarrhea
  • Itching/tingling/swelling of the lips, palate, tongue, or throat

Symptoms typically occur anywhere from a few minutes to two hours after the allergen is consumed. Food allergies occur most often in infants and children, but they can appear at any age and develop suddenly to foods that were previously eaten without any reaction. Eight foods cause 90 percent of the food allergy reactions in children, according to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network. These are:

  • Milk
  • Peanuts
  • Soy
  • Eggs
  • Wheat
  • Tree nuts such as pecans and walnuts
  • Fish
  • Shellfish

Children often outgrow allergies to eggs, milk, and soy, but allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish usually last into adulthood.

Dealing with a food allergy can be tough for children and their parents. Here are some tips for coping:

  1. Learn to read food labels. Children who are allergic to eggs, for example, need to avoid not only eggs but products that contain eggs, such as mayonnaise. For that reason, it's extremely important to get into the habit of reading food labels. Allergens can turn up in places you might not expect, and the only way to know is to look at the ingredient list.
  2. Teach your child and his teachers to recognize the signs of an allergic reaction. Since you can't be with your child at all times, it's important for him and the adults around him to be aware of the allergy and alert for signs of it.
  3. Don't let your child trade lunches. It can be tempting for school-age kids to swap sandwiches or snacks with a classmate, but teach your child to resist the urge. Eating her own approved lunches is the only way to stay safe.
  4. Keep medications handy. Carefully follow the instructions from your child's doctor on what medications to keep handy and how to use them.
  5. Include your child in food selection and preparation. Not being allowed to eat kid-friendly favorites like peanut butter and jelly or certain baked goods can be tough on a child. Involve your child in finding foods he can enjoy so that he doesn't miss the ones he can't eat.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.