Today 1 in 13 children is affected by food allergy, according to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE). Many parents are wondering why there has been a dramatic increase in food allergies over the past 20 years. While we don't know the cause of the increase in food allergy, we do have several promising avenues of treatment on the horizon. Until a cure is found, food-allergic children need everyone's help to stay safe. So what can parents of non-allergic kids do to help food-allergic kids thrive?
Make sure your child knows that food allergies are serious and never a joke. Explain to your child how to keep food-allergic friends safe by always washing their hands after eating and not sharing their food.
Follow the Rules
If there is a "no peanuts or tree-nuts" policy in place at your child's school or activities, be sure to follow the rules and avoid sending those items with your child. Check labels on trail mix and granola bars where peanuts and tree nuts might be hiding.
Know the Signs
Anaphylaxis is the body's response to an allergen, but it doesn't always look like it does on television. If a child experiences one or any combination of the following symptoms, they may be having an allergic reaction. Never wait to treat an allergic reaction; take the child to the hospital or call 911. If the child has a known allergy and carries an epinephrine auto-injector, give the shot immediately and then call 911.
1. Difficulty breathing
2. Reduced blood-pressure (pale, weak pulse, fainting)
3. Skin symptoms (like hives) or swollen lips
4. Gastrointestinal symptoms (vomiting, diarrhea, or cramping)
Ask the Parent
If you are aware that a child has food allergies, ask the parent what way to best include them in class or birthday activities. Responses will vary, depending on the number and severity of food allergies. Some parents of food-allergic kids would prefer to provide a safe option themselves, others will give you a "safe list," and still others will just tell you to make sure there are none of the allergen in the food. The parent is always the best advocate for their food-allergic child and they will be happy that you are working with them to keep their child safe.
Sara Simeral is the mother of 5-year-old twins, one with food allergies and one without. When she's not answering "why" questions, she enjoys advocating for food allergy research.