Food allergies are a severe and growing problem, particularly for children. A survey from 2015-2016 found that nearly 8% of all kids in the U.S. have at least one food allergy. In other words, two kids in every classroom will have some type of allergy.
There are more than 170 documented and reported food allergies in the U.S., but the good news is that only a handful of culprits causes the vast majority of serious allergies.
Kids' food allergies are increasingly common. So whether you're a parent or an educator, you need to know how to protect them from foods that can cause them harm.
What Are the Most Common Kids' Food Allergies?
Kids can be allergic to many different foods, but the most common allergic reactions among children are peanuts and dairy (cow's milk). Some of the other typical children's allergies include:
- Tree nuts
These are the foods most likely to cause a severe reaction and even anaphylaxis.
How Do I Know If My Kids Have Allergies?
If you have a reason to suspect a food allergy, you need to schedule an appointment for an allergy test with a physician or allergist.
An allergist may use either the skin prick test (SPT) or a blood test to introduce common allergens to your child's skin and wait for a reaction. In some cases, your allergist will have your children eat the suspected food allergen in a supervised setting and watch to see whether symptoms consistent with an allergy appear.
While the SPT and blood testing were the most common modes of testing, physicians now consider the physician-supervised test to be the gold standard. The test takes four to eight hours, but the process tends to be more reliable than SPT and blood testing.
Do Food Allergies Ever Go Away?
Yes! Many children ultimately outgrow their food allergies, particularly their allergies to milk, eggs, wheat, and soy. If your child does have one of these allergies, there's a good chance they'll have outgrown them by age five.
However, other allergies are much harder to outgrow. Peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish tend to stick around into adolescence and adulthood. Learning to manage them from a young age gives your kids the best chance at independence and navigating the world of food safely.
My Child Has Allergies - Now What?
With a formal diagnosis and instructions from your pediatrician or allergist in hand, you and your child can go out into the world confident in knowing what's behind their allergy symptoms.
But living with food allergies - especially severe ones - isn't so easy. Kids want to run, play, and eat with their friends. And once they go to school, you can't double-check labels or menus for them.
Navigating kids' food allergies isn't always simple, but it does get more manageable when you have a plan.
- Start with a Plan
Everyone, including your child, needs more information about what to do when an allergic reaction happens. You can make it clear for everyone by creating and sharing an action plan.
Together with your allergist or pediatrician, put together a guide to what to do when your child encounters an allergen. Decide what treatments need to happen and when. Share your child's most commonly spotted symptoms. Let other caregivers know who to call when something happens - you, your co-parent, your doctor, or anyone else who can help.
Make sure you also have your child on board with the plan. Your kids are their own biggest advocates. So, help them recognize the signs of their allergies so they can flag down an adult quickly.
- Always Carry Antihistamines and an EpiPen (if Prescribed)
Your child will have a prescription for antihistamines or epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen) - or both. These must be always available to you, your child, or their caregiver at school, sports clubs, or a friend's house.
Every second counts when a child has an allergic reaction, so it's crucial to not only share information about your child's allergies but show others how they can help your child in the event of an allergic reaction.
- Make Their Allergy Visible to Everyone
Navigating the world of allergies with young kids can be tough. They just want to eat what they're friends eat, and they're not always able to speak up, especially when a new adult is in charge. Things are also more complicated when they aren't yet old enough to critically read labels or understand the most common ingredients in the foods given to them.
You can't be with your child 24/7, but you can make their allergies visible.
One way to warn others of their severe food allergies is to use Allergy Warning labels. Put it on their bag tags, lunch boxes, food containers, cups, and other travel gear. The sticker will stand out to other adults and make sure that your child's allergies are always at the forefront of their caregiver's minds.
If you carry EpiPens, consider getting bag tags clearly identify the right bag and pocket to find the EpiPen. It will make it easier for your child or their caregiver to find it and administer the injection quickly.
- Encourage Your Child to Keep Up the Good Work
Having a chronic health issue takes work, and it can take its toll on kids and adults alike. Your last job as a parent of a child with food allergies is to remind them that they are more than their health issue, and they're in control of their bodies.
One way to do that is by making sure you speak positively about food allergies. You can also help by encouraging both your allergy-prone child and their siblings to avoid talking about what they can't eat and focusing on what they can.
You can't change food allergies, but you can change how you and your child see them. And perspective can make all the difference!
Allergies Are Opportunities to Try Something New
Kids' food allergies are increasingly common, but they don't need to dominate your family. Once you have a diagnosis and an action plan, you can go out into the world and encourage your child to live their life confidently! Remember, there are so many allergy-free alternatives out there. Avoiding an allergen doesn't mean your child and family need to miss out on something.
At Cherry Hill Designs, we make labels by moms for moms to help keep a watchful eye over your kids when you're not there. Get to know Cherry Hill Designs by reading more about my story.