What to do if your child has a food allergy

By Carolina Boyd

Every three minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room. Food allergies are one of the most common health conditions affecting children under the age of 17. According to the organization, Food Allergy Research and Education, one in thirteen children has some kind of food allergy.

Food allergies are caused by an immune system reaction to certain proteins in the foods that we eat. About 90 percent of all food allergies originate from eight foods: milk, eggs, peanuts, wheat, soy, fish, tree nuts and shellfish.

“The reason some children develop food allergies and others don’t is a combination of nature and nurture,” said Legacy Community Health’s Medical Director of Pediatrics, Dr. Tamisha Jones. “Some children have a genetic predisposition, like allergies that run in their family. Others may live in an environment with external triggers like certain molds and pollen.”

Symptoms of a food allergy include hives, itchy skin rashes, swelling, wheezing, throat tightness, diarrhea, light-headedness and even loss of consciousness.

“It’s best to see your child’s pediatrician if you think he or she might have allergies.  However, usually avoidance is the best bet.  Avoid the types of foods that trigger the symptoms.  In some severe cases, children may need to carry an emergency medication called epinephrine to administer if they accidentally eat a food to which they are allergic,” said Dr. Jones.

Some tips to help your children avoid food allergy triggers:

  • Prepare a safe lunch for your child to take to school. Use a container with different sections to separate items.
  • Make your child’s teacher and school nurse aware of food allergies and what a reaction might look like.
  • Ensure that there is access to epinephrine injectors at all times.
  • Provide age-appropriate education to your child about managing an allergy. Engage your child’s provider in the conversation.
  • Discourage food sharing among children.
  • Encourage kids to wash their hands before and after eating to get rid of any traces of allergens.

Some food allergies can be outgrown, though peanut, tree nut, fish and shellfish allergies, which tend to cause the most severe reactions, are most likely to last a lifetime. Despite ongoing research into various immunotherapy treatments for food allergies, especially those involving peanuts, there is still no cure for food allergies.

If you suspect your child may have a food allergy, you can click here to learn how to schedule an appointment with a Legacy Community Health provider. However, if you or your child experience a severe allergic reaction, call 911.