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What can I do for my children to help prevent a food allergy reaction?

Once your child's pediatrician or allergist has tested and confirmed food allergies, you need to be diligent about helping your child avoid these allergens. Here are some tips:

  • Read food labels for potential problems. If you don't know what an ingredient is, call the manufacturer for details.
  • Educate family, caregivers and teachers about your child's allergies. Some people don't know how serious food allergies can be and may not understand even tiny amounts of a food can be a problem.
  • Teach your child about the allergy. He or she can learn to take responsibility for avoiding the foods that cause problems.
  • Consult a registered dietitian (RD). An RD will work with you and your child to develop a healthful eating pattern while avoiding allergens.

In addition to teaching your child what foods to avoid, you should also teach your child the following:

  • Not to trade food with others
  • Not to eat anything with unknown ingredients
  • Be involved in the care of the food allergy and its reaction
  • Know that it is okay to ask people what ingredients are in the food they are served
  • Even if you haven’t had an allergic reaction in a long time, don’t experiment with foods outside of your doctor’s office
  • Tell an adult right away if he or she ate something that contained the allergic food
Ms. Vandana  R. Sheth
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Education, awareness and having an emergency protocol in place are methods of helping prevent/treat a food allergy reaction. Be supportive and protective but empower your child to take ownership of their food allergies.

Once diagnosed with food allergies, educate your child about the foods that they are allergic to. Teach your child to never eat a food unless there is a label and they have verified that it is safe. When in doubt, don't take a chance. Educate family and friends about your child's food allergies to minimize a chance of accidental ingestion of an allergic food. Schedule a session with a registered dietitian specializing in food allergies to help your child better understand their situation and to assist with meeting his/her nutritional needs.

Visit eatright.org to find a dietitian near you. The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network is also a good resource.

Children have unique ways of describing their experiences, and they may communicate their symptoms differently than adults. If the adult doesn't understand or immediately recognize that an allergic reaction has occurred, precious time can be lost that could be spent giving treatmen or supportive care or providing transportation to a healthcare facility. Some children, especially very young ones, put their hands in their mouths or pull or scratch at their tongues in response to a reaction. Also, children’s voices may change, become either hoarse or squeaky, and they may begin to slur their words. Here are examples of how a child might describe a reaction:

  • "This food is too spicy."
  • "My tongue is hot [or burning]."
  • "It feels like something’s poking my tongue."
  • "My tongue [or mouth] is tingling [or burning]."
  • "My tongue [or mouth] itches."
  • "It [my tongue] feels like there is hair on it."
  • "My mouth feels funny."
  • "There's a frog in my throat."
  • "There’s something stuck in my throat."
  • "My tongue feels full [or heavy]."
  • "My lips feel tight."
  • "It feels like there are bugs in there." (to describe itchy ears)
  • "It [my throat] feels thick."
  • "It feels like a bump is on the back of my tongue [throat]."

If you suspect that your child is having an allergic reaction, follow your doctor’s instructions and treat the reaction quickly.

Make sure to work with your doctor, preferably a board certified allergist, to make sure that you know what foods need to be avoided and how to manage symptoms and allergic reactions.

Keeping safe by avoiding the food requires education. For children, age and developmental readiness are key factors. We know also that teenagers may take risks and this must also be addressed.

Briefly, areas of special education about food avoidance include reading ingredient labels on manufactured products, understanding how to get safe meals in a restaurant, understanding food avoidance at home including avoiding cross contact of foods with allergens, and, for children, special issues for schools and camps.

It is important to have your child children work with you in learning to obtain safe foods. Let your child practice identifying safe foods with adult supervision first, in an age-ready manner. When ready, you can let your child read labels to identify safe foods and eventually direct the conversation with restaurant staff. Make sure your child also understands cross contact. For example, using a knife in peanut butter and then in the jelly jar can introduce peanut into the otherwise safe jelly.

Birthday parties and other celebrations must be approached with caution. Sometimes it is easier to bring similar safe foods.

The primary danger regarding food allergy for those with severe allergies is inadvertently eating the food. Although touching a food might lead to rashes, it is unlikely to trigger severe reactions. However, young children might suck on fingers and therefore transfer food to their mouth. This requires extra supervision and hand washing. Also, craft projects or cooking projects with the food may present challenges and often must be avoided. Plans must be in place to avoid the allergen in schools and a camps. These plans also might vary depending on the age of the child. Older children can take more responsibility while younger ones require more supervision. Many states have Guidelines for managing food allergies in schools.

Additional resources are available through the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, Food Allergy Initiative and the Consortium of Food Allergy Research.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.