It was a few weeks after our twin boys’ first birthday, about 5 p.m. on a Saturday, when my wife came outside while I was cutting grass. She knows I don’t want anyone outside while I mow.
Max, our oldest, was having an allergic reaction to some peanut butter he had smeared on his face. I was panicked. She was calmer. She had called a local pediatrician’s hotline, and the nurse advised giving him some children’s Benadryl and watching to see if his reaction worsened. If so, we were to rush him to the emergency room (not long ago our community got a dedicated children’s emergency room).
The full extent of Max’s allergy is yet to be determined by an upcoming visit to an allergist. And his identical brother, Wyatt, who didn’t get into the peanut butter, will also have a panel of tests run. With children always getting into things they shouldn’t, it’s possible it’s something besides the peanut butter that triggered the rash.
Roughly three million kids in this country suffer from food allergies, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study. Reactions can range from temporary discomfort all the way to death in extreme cases. So, what’s a conscientious parent to do?
When in doubt, cut it out, says Erin Everhart, a spokeswoman for Hope Paige Designs, a maker of medical ID bracelets. That’s the best advice when it comes to protecting children from food allergies. If you discover a certain type of food causes health problems for your kids – and usually, the reaction is stumbled upon, as in our case – eliminate it from your children’s diets.
Most Common Offenders
The Food and Drug Administration has identified eight foods that it says account for 90 percent of allergic reactions. Here’s a list of the biggest offenders:
- Crustacean shellfish
- Tree nuts
Federal law requires manufacturers to list all major food allergens on labels. The FDA recommends that you read food labels carefully, checking for these ingredients if your child may be allergic to any of them.
Signs and Symptoms
Allergic reactions can escalate quickly into a full-blown medical crisis. So, it’s important to identify early warning signs. Here are some of the most common food allergy symptoms:
- Skin rash
- Tingling or itchy sensation in the mouth
- Face, tongue or lip swelling
- Swelling of the throat and vocal cords
- Coughing or wheezing
- Difficulty breathing
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Abdominal cramps
If your baby or infant develops any of these symptoms shortly after eating, get in touch with medical personnel immediately. If the symptoms are severe, take them to a doctor or call 911 immediately.
Other factors that can influence whether your baby will develop a food allergy include:
- Having another allergy, such as asthma or hay fever
- Having a family member with a food allergy
Treatment of Food Allergies
Once your child is diagnosed with an allergy, start scrutinizing food labels. Remember that ingredients in a certain grocery store item may change, so it is wise to read the label each time you make a purchase.
Take precautions to avoid cross-contaminating bowls, cups, and utensils with known allergens. For example, don’t use a knife that’s been in the peanut butter jar to prepare food for a child with a peanut allergy.
Work with your children to help them communicate what they aren’t able to eat. Teach them to ask questions before eating treats at school or a friend’s house.
Tell school officials about a child’s food allergies and prepare special sack lunches for them if necessary. If they have a history of severe allergies, have them wear or carry medical identification – which is now offered in more varieties than the tags or bracelets of yore.
If your child is at risk for anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction that can restrict breathing and blood flow, be sure to talk to your doctor about how to administer epinephrine injections.