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How much responsibility should my child take for managing his allergies?

Lawrence T. Chiaramonte, MD
Allergy & Immunology
The ideal is not to fuss over allergic children every minute of the day, but to make them their own monitors. Of course this is related to the child's level of maturity. During infancy and early childhood, parental protection is required. Adolescent rebellion must exclude taking chances with allergy treatment. Anaphylactic shock is not like getting a bloody nose or even throwing up because you sneak liquor from the old man's liquor cabinet. Out in the world, a child must be able to say "I can't eat that" even if he risks being seen as a finicky eater or a killjoy. We know one extended family of good cooks who go crazy because the child travels with his own supply of hot dogs and macaroni and cheese. They know better than to feed him anything with peanuts, but the child's fear of new food has narrowed his tastes. Those are the breaks. Better a picky eater than an evening at the hospital.

The child must be able to resist the mistakes of friends and friends' parents. He must also be able to say no to Grandma who might tell him, "A little won't hurt you." The fact is that "a little" taste of the offending substance will deliver it into allergen central for distribution to all key body parts. The body's defenses will order in airborne troops and carpet-bombing. Shoot first and ask questions later.

When the child is an infant and toddler, you do have a big say in his or her daily activities and eating habits. Controlling these environments is a necessity because the child lacks an understanding of the importance of avoiding allergens - and the consequences if he or she does not.

But the process of shifting responsibility can begin fairly young. By the age of 3 or 4, most children become very savvy about their allergies because they know how bad they feel if they are exposed to an offending allergen. Many children will alert a parent when there is imminent danger.

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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.