Food Allergies: How to Protect Your Child

A Food Allergy Story

Proper handling of food is a serious matter, especially in terms of ensuring that the meal being served to kids are free from the common allergens. Take for example the tragic case of Natalie Marie, a 13-year old girl who passed away due to a severe allergic reaction.

While staying in a summer camp in Sacramento, the young girl ate the provided snacks that contained peanut butter. The consequences of this oversight had proven to be swift and fatal. 

Recognizing the need for better education and vigilance among food handlers and consumers, a bill has been recently signed into law in the state of California. With the passage of AB 1532 or also known as the Natalie Giorgi Sunshine Act, all individuals involved in the preparation and distribution of food must gain certification in terms of their knowledge and implementation of proper allergen management practices. 

Furthermore, the Act has categorized “organized camps” as an example of a “food facility”. Therefore, every personnel who is in charge of food for everyone attending a given camp should be trained accordingly, as specified by the law.

To those unaware of the prevalence of food allergy cases in the US, the demands of AB 1532 might seem to be too stringent. However, as revealed by a recent survey, around 15 million Americans have food allergies—six million of these are children. 

Aside from AB 1532, more preventive measures are being promoted by the Natalie Giorgi Sunshine Foundation under the direction of Natalie’s parents. Together, they aim to lower the number of deaths related to food allergy by educating the public about allergens, their effects on the body, and the emergency procedures that one could take to help those suffering from allergic reactions.

To guide you on this, the following sections shall give you an overview of what you need to know about the fight against food allergy.

What Is Food Allergy

Food allergy refers to the reactions of the immune system when triggered by a certain protein contained in a food item that has been consumed by an individual. There is a wide range of probable allergens, most of which are accessible to the average consumer:

  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts, such as cashew and almond
  • Dairy products like butter, milk, and cheese
  • Eggs
  • Shellfish, such as crab and prawn
  • Soybean
  • Wheat

If you are not sure if you or your loved ones are allergic to specific kinds of food, it is best to consult with an allergist. To determine your sensitivity to various types of protein, you may undergo either a blood test or a skin test. However, even though the results of these tests are mostly accurate and indicative of your food allergies, they do not always yield complete results, especially if you have not had any prior reactions to a certain food.

To address this, the allergist may ask you to perform an oral food challenge, wherein you would have to consume gradually increasing amounts of a food item until an allergic reaction has been triggered. Take note that this must always be done in the presence, and with the guidance of a physician.

The intensity of the reaction varies from one person to another, but it typically develops within minutes or a few hours after the allergen has been consumed. It can be as subtle as a tingling sensation in the mouth and lightheadedness, or as uncomfortable as abdominal pain, nausea, nasal congestion, and swelling of the face, tongue, lips, and other body parts. 

Life-threatening reactions happen when the person goes through an anaphylactic shock, which involves loss of consciousness, tightening of the airways, and elevated heart rate. In such cases, do not panic, and seek immediate medical attention. 

How To Protect Your Kids From Food Allergies In School

Many schools remain largely inadequate when it comes to proper allergen management in the food and beverage being served in their cafeterias. Studies also show that there is a lot of room to improve in terms of the school staff’s knowledge about emergency responses for those suffering from an allergic reaction. 

As a parent, you should not take the risk, and just wait for the schools to keep up with the new regulations being put into place about controlling and preventing food allergies. Be proactive, and take this matter into your own hands.

To ensure the comprehensiveness of the child’s protection, you should get first confirmation from a physician about the food allergies that your child might have. Report also any prior incidences that seem like a case of food allergy, and consult about which tests would suit your child best. 

After the testing, the physician would guide you on which foods must be avoided by your child at all times. The doctor would also prescribe which kinds of medication you should keep on hand, such as antihistamines.

You cannot completely rely on these medications, however. As a parent, here are some important tips on how you can protect your child in school:

  • Talk to your child about the foods he/she cannot eat. Remind them to always read the label before eating anything.
  • Discuss why he cannot eat them. Highlight the fact that he cannot share foods with classmates and friends because of this.
  • Explain the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction.
  • Teach him what to do and who must be notified in case his food allergy has been triggered.

Aside from educating your child, it is also advisable to coordinate directly with staff members of the school. Get their commitment to ensuring your child’s safety while in school, and assist them in whatever way you can to keep potential sources of allergens away from your child at all times.

Asthma And Food Allergies

According to studies, food rarely causes an asthma attack alone. However, asthma can be triggered as part of the immune system’s reactions towards the food allergen.

Proteins that cause food allergies and the chemicals that induce asthma attacks can overlap, thus causing the first scenario described above. To give you an idea on which kinds of food to look out for, here is a list of the ingredients and food chemicals that have been identified as triggers for asthma:

  • Monosodium glutamate or MSG

This is frequently used as a flavor enhancer, especially in savory chips and other snacks. You may also find this in soy sauce, instant soup mixes, and broth cubes. 

  • Sulfites

This is commonly found in canned fruit juice, dried fruits, wine, and canned fish since it is used by manufacturers as a preservative. It may be listed as sodium metabisulphite or Sulphur dioxide among the other ingredients, so look out for those terms too.

  • Salicylates

Almost 10% of people with asthma are triggered by foods that contain salicylates. These food products include tomato sauce, soy sauce, honey, beer, and instant coffee. 

To keep your child safe from and during food allergy-induced asthma attacks, here are some tips for you to consider:

  1. Identify and avoid food triggers. 

Please note that you should not self-diagnose your child. Always seek the guidance and advice of a medical professional. You may be restricting him from certain nutritious foods that do not actually have any negative effects on his health.

  1. Ask an allergist if your child can take allergy shots. 

As part of immunotherapy, allergy shots may be given to your child by the doctor in order to gradually familiarize the immune system with the proteins that are causing an overreaction from it. Though the effect of this treatment would not be readily evident, it might prove to be effective in preventing both allergic reactions and asthma attacks in the future.

Osteoarthritis And Allergies

Many people suffering from osteoarthritis—or the chronic swelling of joints—report feeling sore after eating. As such, they believe that it is also a sign of an allergic reaction to food. However, scientists have not yet found definitive proof that there is even a link between food and osteoarthritis in the first place. At the moment, the consensus among experts is that osteoarthritis is caused by the gradual degradation of joints due to regular usage.

However, there are some researchers who still argue that food contributes to the swelling of joints because they can increase the number of antibodies in your system—a factor that has been identified as one of the causes for the wear and tear of one’s joints. Among the food items that have been tested, they found out that the following have triggered a greater presence of antibodies in the intestines:

  • Cereal
  • Chicken egg
  • Pork
  • Cow’s milk
  • Cod

The researchers in this study suggest that the proteins from these foods and the antibodies bind together to form immune complexes, which then circulate around different parts of the body, including joints. These immune complexes are believed to contribute to the swelling of the affected joints. 

You might think that this has nothing to do with your child, mostly because the majority of those suffering from osteoarthritis are adults. However, there is this condition called juvenile arthritis, which is a form of rheumatoid arthritis observed among young individuals from ages 18 and below. This is described as the painful inflammation of joints, particularly those located in the wrists and fingers.

There are various causes and contributors to joint pains and swelling, but managing your child’s diet may prevent them from having to suffer from this. Again, consult your child’s physician before making any dietary changes. You would not want to cause further complications by skipping this step.

Migraines And Allergies

Health experts have found that the following forms of allergies can cause migraines among adults and children. 

Food Allergy 

Certain foods have been identified as triggers for pain, especially headaches and migraines. These include chocolate, cheese, and artificial sweeteners.

Allergic Rhinitis

More commonly known as hay fever, allergic rhinitis may be the cause of your migraine if it happens during certain seasons only and if the pain is localized around the sinus region and the front part of the head.

Either or both forms of allergies may affect your child. That is why you need to take immediate action to prevent your child from having to suffer from migraines as well. 

You know by now how to address food allergies, but what about allergic rhinitis? As with any kind of illness, the best way to handle this is to avoid the known triggers for it. You can do this by:

  • Keeping your windows and air filters clean;
  • Removing area rugs and carpets from your flooring;
  • Using a dehumidifier;
  • Dusting regularly the furniture and appliances; and
  • Vacuuming your house on a regular basis.

Since you are not in control of what happens in the environment around your home, it is also perfectly alright to make your child take antihistamines when needed, especially if he has suffered from allergic rhinitis before. The medication itself is readily available in pharmacies without having to present a prescription. However, it is best to consult a doctor about the appropriate dosage for your child.

Here is a list of the common antihistamines that can be bought over the counter:

  • Allegra (fexofenadine)
  • Benadryl (diphenhydramine)
  • Claritin (loratadine)
  • Chlor-Trimeton (chlorpheniramine)
  • Zyrtec (cetirizine)

You may also get your child an allergy shot from a clinic. They reduce the likelihood of an allergic reaction, thereby lessening the chances of your child getting an allergy-induced migraine. 

Peanut Allergy

Of all the possible sources of food allergens, peanuts are being singled out because it is one of the most common causes of the most severe allergic reactions, such as in the case of Natalie Giorgi. The effects of peanut allergy on the body can be quite strong even if ingested in small quantities only.

Peanut allergy can be triggered by direct or indirect exposure to products that contain peanut proteins.

  1. Direct Contact

This is the most common means of causing an allergic reaction. It can be through eating or even direct skin contact on peanut-containing products.

  1. Cross Contact

When food that does not contain peanut proteins becomes exposed to peanuts during the process of preparation or distribution of the said food. As mentioned earlier, small quantities of peanut protein can lead to an allergic reaction.

  1. Inhalation 

Peanut flour or peanut oil in spray form are the most frequent sources of tiny peanut particles that can enter one’s system. Even in these forms, peanut proteins can still be recognized by the immune system as something that must be eliminated immediately.

Children, in particular, belong to the group who are most at risk when it comes to allergic reactions to peanuts. Aside from being more likely to accidentally ingest peanut-containing products, their digestive systems have also not fully matured. This means that the effect of peanuts on children can quickly become severe to the point of being fatal.

As a parent, you should immediately seek medical help when your child begins to exhibit signs and symptoms of a peanut allergy, which can appear within a few minutes after being exposed to peanuts. In case of a severe reaction, as indicated by certain symptoms such as rapid pulse, difficulty in breathing, and loss of consciousness, call your local emergency hotlines to prevent further escalation.

CONCLUSION & SUMMARY – 5 TIPS WHEN IT COMES TO FOOD ALLERGIES

Given all these, you should understand by now that the food your child eats must be prepared and handled well within and outside your home. At the first indication of a food allergy, do not hesitate to seek medical help immediately. Knowing how to recognize the signs and symptoms of a food allergy can spell the difference between life and death.

To further guide you on how you can keep your child safe from the dangers of food allergens, here are the top strategies that you can employ:

  1. Cook your child’s meals whenever you can. Arm yourself with the right information about your child’s allergies so that you can take responsibility of the food that he is going to eat. Learn which ingredients to choose, and how to prepare food properly. There are plenty of cookbooks and food websites that can get you started on this.
  2. Do your own research. Keep yourself up to date with the current trends on allergy treatments, and the things that you should be keeping an eye on when it comes to food allergies. Be mindful, however, about the reliability and quality of your sources of information. Go for scientific publications generated by reputable health experts.
  3. Join communities that focus on managing and preventing food allergies. Talk with other parents, children, and other caregivers who are facing similar situations as you are. Learn how they are handling the challenges associated with food allergies, and share your best practices as well.
  4. Make a list of the venues that accommodate those with special dietary needs. Aside from restaurants, look for resorts, hotels, and other spots in the places you frequently visit that have staff members who are properly trained when it comes to food allergy. This would give you peace of mind whenever you go out with your child.
  5. Take part of PTA meetings. Through this, you may be able to influence the school policies that affect the food products your child consumes while he is at school. You might advocate for a better planned menu for the cafeteria, or for the establishment of policies that would dissuade sharing of food between the school children.

Beyond these strategies, your most reliable allies when it comes to protecting your child from food allergy is your own family and friends. Educate them about food allergy and its consequences, as well as the importance of taking extra precautionary measures to ensure the safety of your child.