Not only are food allergies on the rise, but they go
beyond just the peanut butter and eggs that most people think of. Today, about 1 out of every 13 children is affected by severe food allergies. It’s hard to escape the startling
fact that severe allergies, including food allergies, are on the rise.
Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction include
difficulty breathing, a drop in blood pressure, and problems with swallowing.
One potentially life-threatening allergic reaction is anaphylaxis. Allergic
reactions to food send someone to the emergency room every three minutes in
America, according to Food Allergy Research &
It’s very important to avoid the triggers that cause
allergic reactions. Equally important is knowing your child’s specific symptoms
and having an action plan for when an allergic reaction occurs. For people of
all ages, being prepared and knowing how to respond can mean the difference
between life and death. Read on for tips regarding how to discuss severe
allergies with your child.
What to do if your child has allergies
An allergic reaction can be a scary thing. Whether
it’s a mild reaction or a more severe one, an older child will likely remember
the discomfort and irritation they felt during the response. Fear of having
another reaction can be paralyzing. It’s important to help your child feel in
control of their allergies and prepare them, as well as others who should know,
what to do in case of an attack.
Learn the triggers
The best way to avoid an allergic reaction is to
avoid the trigger. Ask your child’s doctor about getting a thorough allergy
test. Once your child is tested, you will have a better understanding of the
allergens they need to avoid.
Younger children may not be able to fully understand
their allergies, let alone explain them to other children or adults. It’s
important to equip the adults in your child’s life with the information they
need about your child’s allergy. Provide a list of your child’s allergies to their
school, day care, or after-school care. Go a step further and purchase an
allergy alert bracelet that details your child’s allergies. Teach your child to
present the allergy bracelet to any adults that offer them food.
Older kids can protect themselves more easily.
Provide them with a list of their triggers, and as they are able, help them
learn to recognize hidden triggers on nutritional labels. This will help them
feel safe when they are in an environment where you don’t get to oversee the
food they are offered.
Responding to anaphylaxis
An allergic response can quickly escalate. It’s
critical that your child know how important it is to tell an adult if they do
not feel well. They should know to call emergency services — and you, if
possible — if they’re ever alone and feeling unwell and suspect it is due to an
allergy. Provide them with a list of phone numbers next to the home telephone
so they know who to dial in an emergency.
If your child is old enough to carry their own
epinephrine autoinjector, commonly known as an EpiPen, make sure they keep it
with them at all times. Provide them with a purse or backpack that helps them
safely carry the medicine. If you think it’s necessary, schedule regular
training sessions with your doctor’s office or a health education office so
they can practice. Also, help your child learn to check the autoinjector’s
If your child’s friend or sibling has allergies
Siblings and friends can be good allies for children
with severe allergies. Arm your child with the knowledge of what to do if their
sibling or friend is having a reaction. They’ll feel empowered to help when
The biggest hurdle in avoiding allergens is learning
to analyze everything for possible triggers. It’s never safe to assume
something isn’t a trigger. Teach your child to ask adults for clarification if
they’re not sure about a food item, for instance. Help your child learn to
recognize hidden allergens in food so they or their sibling or friend with
allergies won’t eat it.
Also, it’s important that children learn to help
deflect curiosity if it upsets their friend or sibling. Food allergies are more
common than they used to be, but children can become very curious and sometimes
mean-spirited about differences. Help equip your child to answer questions but
quickly change the subject.
Responding to a reaction
A quick reaction time can save a life. Teach your
child to respond to their friend’s or sibling’s allergic reaction with a calm
head. Keep a list of emergency numbers posted by the phone. On a cell phone,
program all numbers so they are easy to locate. If your child is old enough to
drive and can transport someone experiencing a reaction, make sure they know
which hospital to go to. If the child is the one having the reaction, they
should not drive but rather get someone else to transport them or call
emergency services if there is no one available.
Older children can be taught to administer
epinephrine injections. Talk with your family’s doctor or a local health
education association about epinephrine injection lessons.
Education is essential
Preparation saves lives. The more prepared your
child feels to save themselves, a friend, or sibling, the better they will
respond in the event of an emergency. Teach them what you can as they are able.
Go over plans regularly. In the event of an emergency, you can rest easier
knowing they are as prepared as they can be.