What? No More Peanuts?

So, the chalkboard-style welcome sign at the cabin read “Peanut-Free Zone.”  What? No more peanuts? No more of my mother-in-laws yummy, gooey, peanut butter Rice Krispie treats?

This past spring my one-year-old nephew was diagnosed with peanut allergies, which prompted the alert message as you entered my in-laws lake cabin.  My first reaction to hearing his diagnosis was, “poor thing,” now he won’t be able to enjoy some of the same food dishes and snacks as we do.  However, the more I learned about food allergies among kids the more I realized the entire family needs to be cautious.

Food Allergies in Kids
An estimated 6-8 percent of children have a food allergy or a reaction triggered by the immune system. The vast majority of food allergies are caused by eight foods: tree nuts, peanuts, milk, eggs, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish. While there’s no cure, some children outgrow their food allergy as they get older.

Even a tiny amount of the allergy-causing food can trigger signs and symptoms such as digestive problems, hives or swollen airways. In some people, a food allergy can cause severe symptoms or even a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis. Though dairy and nuts are the most common triggers, some parents deal with multiple allergens, which makes buying prepackaged food nearly impossible.

Food allergy among children is becoming more common over time, although reasons for this are still poorly understood.  In 2007, the reported food allergy rate among all children younger than 18 years was 18% higher than in 1997.

What if your child has a food allergy?
One of the keys to preventing an allergic reaction is to completely avoid the food that causes symptoms and also to take these precautions to ensure his or her safety:

  • Notify key people that your child has a food allergy. Talk with child care providers, school personnel, parents of your child’s friends, and other adults who regularly interact with your child. Emphasize that an allergic reaction can be life-threatening and requires immediate action. Make sure that your child also knows to ask for help right away if he or she reacts to food.
  • Explain food allergy symptoms. Teach the adults who spend time with your child how to recognize signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction.
  • Write an action plan. Your plan should describe how to care for your child when he or she has an allergic reaction to food. Provide a copy of the plan to your child’s school nurse and others who care for and supervise your child.
  • Use food allergy alert labels or ID. A medical alert I.D. lists your child’s allergy symptoms and explains how others can provide first aid in an emergency. Food allergy alert labels are a fun and great way to communicate your child’s food sensitivity. Ideal on lunch containers/boxes and more.
  • Don’t assume. Always read labels on manufactured foods to make sure they don’t contain an ingredient your child is allergic to. Even if you think you know what’s in a food, check the label. Ingredients sometimes change. Read food labels carefully to avoid the top eight sources of food allergens: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat.
  • When in doubt, say no thanks. At restaurants and social gatherings, you’re always taking a risk that your child might eat a food they are allergic to. Many people don’t understand the seriousness of an allergic food reaction and may not realize that a tiny amount of a food can cause a severe reaction in some people. If you have any suspicion at all that a food may contain something you’re child is allergic to, steer clear.

Resources for Parents

American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology http://www.aaaai.org/patients/resources/

Mayo Clinic http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/food-allergy/DS00082

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