If you think your child may be suffering from a severe allergic reaction, contact 911 or your local emergency response immediately. Your child may be suffering from anaphylaxis, causing them to find it hard or impossible to breathe. This may happen within minutes. It is very important that you get immediate help.
While most food adventures with your baby will be fun, sometimes they can be scary. As you try new foods, you may discover that your baby has a food allergy. According to FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education), 1 out of every 13 children in the US has a food allergy. This is a bit of an intimidating fact. But trying new foods with babies is fun, and it doesn’t have to be scary. Stay educated and know the symptoms of an allergic reaction so that you know how to respond in an emergency, should one arise. If you or immediate members of your family have allergies, then your children are more likely to have them. Even if your allergies are environmental and not food, just the fact that you have environmental allergies makes your children more prone to having food allergies. If you are worried about your child having food allergies, speak to their pediatrician or allergist. You can always make plans with them to test new foods in their offices so that you are ready, should an emergency occur.
I was unaware that my asthma and environmental allergies made my son more likely to have food allergies. Unfortunately, we found out that he has a tree nut allergy by accident, when cashew was an ingredient in a pasta sauce he was eating. It was a scary experience and I wish I had been more informed about food allergies prior to his severe allergic reaction. Had I known that he would be prone to food allergies, I would have made sure that he didn’t have any common allergens until he had been tested.
What is a food allergy?
A food allergy occurs when your body’s immune system overreacts to a specific type of food. Instead of focusing on germs, your body also targets a food protein and mistakenly attacks it. This attack leads to a type of allergic reaction that may manifest itself as a rash (which may develop around mouth or entire body), vomiting, itching, diarrhea, and/or trouble breathing.
Common food allergies for babies include:
- Cow’s Milk
- Tree Nuts
The good news is that some babies who are diagnosed young will outgrow their allergies. Allergies to milk, eggs, wheat, and soy are often outgrown. So, while it may be difficult now, there is hope in knowing that it most likely will not be a lifelong allergy. Peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish are less likely to be outgrown.
What is the difference between a food intolerance and an allergy?
A food intolerance may mean that eating that specific food may cause digestion discomfort that goes away after thirty minutes to two hours. A food intolerance doesn’t involve the immune system. An allergy does involve the immune system and has the chance of causing anaphylaxis which is life threatening. The basic distinction is that a food intolerance can be uncomfortable, whereas a food allergy can be dangerous and even deadly.
What do I do if my child has an allergic reaction?
- Call 911 if your child is having a hard time breathing, has facial swelling, or develops severe vomiting and/or diarrhea. These are the signs of a severe allergic reaction. Do not drive to the doctor or the E.R. Anaphylaxis can occur within minutes and you may not have enough time.
- Follow the advice given by your medical professionals.
My child was diagnosed with a food allergy. Now What?
If your baby has a severe allergic reaction, doctors will order allergy tests to determine which foods they are allergic to. There are some foods that are almost always connected. For example, if your child has a reaction when eating cashews, during allergy testing you will probably find out that they are also allergic to pistachios. This is why thorough allergy testing is so important. You may have accidentally identified one allergy through consumption, but there may be many more allergies that you haven’t found yet. An allergist knows what to test for and how to proceed best.
Allergy tests may first be done with a small blood draw. This test will say how allergic your child is to the specific ingredient. If it rates high, you will need to go for more tests and get a prescription for an epinephrine pen which will contain the necessary medicine should your child suffer from anaphylaxis in the future.
Follow up tests will most likely include the “scratch test.” This test involves putting small samples of a variety of allergens on pin heads that are then placed on your child’s back. If your child is allergic, a rash will develop. The scratch test itself isn’t painful. It feels like touching the bristles on a hairbrush. If there is an allergic reaction that will become itchy and uncomfortable. Topical creams will often do the trick in relieving any discomfort.
Once your child has been officially diagnosed with an allergy, you will be given a prescription for epinephrine. Perhaps you have heard about the skyrocketing prices of EpiPens this past summer. When we went to fill our prescription we were told that it was going to cost us over $600! And we have excellent insurance! Thank goodness that we have an excellent allergist who helped us find another option. We ended up getting a different brand and we qualified to get it for free! See my post about finding cheaper alternatives if the EpiPen is too costly for you.
How do I care for children with food allergies?
It can be intimidating to be a caregiver to a child with severe allergies, especially if you are unfamiliar with dealing with them. Children with food allergies are usually otherwise healthy and enjoy all aspects of a healthy and vibrant childhood. The important difference is that they and their caregivers must always be aware of the food that they are eating. If you know your child and/or other children that you care for have food allergies, then it is important that you are vigilant and watch out for the allergen and that you be prepared for an emergency situation.
- Know the action plan that has been provided by your allergist or doctor (i.e. what medicines to give, who to call, where to go, etc.).
- Always read the labels on all ingredients used when cooking.
- Always alert staff at restaurants that you have a child with a severe and life threatening food allergy.
- Most chain restaurants now have allergen menus that you can easily find by googling.
- If the waiter or waitress doesn’t seem confident in their knowledge of food safety, then ask to talk with someone who is. Don’t worry about being annoying, be safe!
- Keep copies of the allergy and anaphylaxis emergency plan readily available around the house/ with the child.
- Follow the action plan if you see the symptoms of a major allergic reaction.
Food allergies don’t have to be scary. Stay informed and prepared, this way should an emergency arise, you will know how to respond.