As a parent, you know to make sure your picky eater gets enough fruits and vegetables in their diet. But how do you know if your child’s resistance to eating certain foods might stem from a food allergy? 1 in 13 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with a food allergy, or approximately 32 million Americans. Most parents are unaware their child has a food allergy until they try the food for the first time and have a reaction. While not all reactions are life-threatening, every three minutes a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room. These severe reactions, such as anaphylaxis, occur at least once in 40 percent of children with food allergies.
What is a food allergy?
An allergic reaction occurs when the body’s immune system sees a certain food as harmful and reacts by causing symptoms. A food allergy is not a food sensitivity or intolerance, which is often associated with the digestive system.
What to do if you think your child has a food allergy
The first thing you want to do is to stop giving your child that particular food, and anything else in the same category. For instance, if your child showed a reaction to cashews, avoid all nuts until seeing a doctor for further diagnosis.
Your primary care doctor will likely refer you to an allergist. The allergist will run a series of tests – skin prick, blood, food challenge – to determine which foods your child is allergic to.
How to treat food allergies
While there is no “cure” for food allergies, there are many steps you can take to manage and treat reaction symptoms. Avoiding the allergy-triggering food is the simplest form of treatment, but takes a lot of time, patience, preparation and alternatives. You will need to be an advocate for your child, reading food labels carefully and asking restaurants questions about their menus, or even requesting special preparation if necessary. You will also want to prepare a list of known foods your child can eat, and have alternatives on hand for shared food activities like birthday parties or potlucks.
Make sure your child is always with an Epinephrine autoinjector and Dipenhydramine (either you are with them carrying this or another adult or school administrator). As your child matures, you and your allergist can help them understand their food restrictions and how to advocate for themselves. To achieve a life of food freedom, avoidance is not a solution. Instead, specialized treatment programs like the Tolerance Induction Program™ can help children eat whatever they want, whenever they want, without fear of reaction. Learn more about TIP™ here.