Eating is an activity that many people tend to associate with fueling their bodies, or with experiencing new textures, tastes and similar sensations. But, for millions of allergy sufferers, eating can also be a source of anxiety and fear. Their apprehensions are often related to whether a particular delectable delight might cause them discomfort, or even death. Parents of children who suffer from food allergies also often experience anxiety and fear about what their kids might accidentally eat. Parents are equally concerned whether proper treatment is available in the event of serious allergic response, especially if their child is at school.
One way for parents to lessen potential dangers for children with allergies is to become as knowledgeable and prepared as possible. Of course, you already knew that. But getting prepared can be as overwhelming a task as managing kids’ allergies. These 10 tips can help.
1. Research, Research, Research
Do as much research about your child’s allergy or allergies as you can. Find answers to questions like:
- What are known triggers?
- How do you recognize allergic reaction?
- What is the risk for anaphylaxis?
- Which foods contain the allergens?
- What are some hidden allergens in food?
- What are less common ways kids encounter allergens?
- What are emergency protocols?
Websites hosted by national agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) and the American Academy of Asthma and Immunology (AAAI), maintain an abundance of information about food allergies, prevention and treatments.
In addition, join forums like the Allergic Living “Talking Allergies” Forum, which encourages parents of children with food allergies to meet and discuss their experiences, best practices, specific allergies and more. Also, read books about identifying and managing food allergies, such as our ebook, An Overview of Food Allergies for Parents in Need of Answers.
2. Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs
Get organized, especially if you have young children, by labeling foods. There are a variety of new allergy alert labels and stickers designed with children in mind, which can be used to label foods containing allergens. And in households where kids suffer from different allergies, label shelves that may hold not-so-allergy-friendly foods.
Medical alert bracelets are also an important investment, so anyone encountering your child such as daycare providers, teachers and other parents, are alerted to your child’s allergy.
3. Read Labels
Be sure to read and re-read labels. Food labels are not always clear or consistent. Allergens are often hidden in foods under names you may not recognize. Additionally, food manufacturers are not required to include information on their labels regarding shared facilities. In other words, one product may not contain an allergen but was processed in a facility that also processes food items that do contain the allergen; the manufacturer does not have to disclose that fact. Even if the manufacturer chooses to provide this information on the label, there is no requirement dictating where this information is placed.
For more information on allergens, their various names, and food labeling requirements, see the CDC, FDA, and FARE. websites.
4. Enlist Help
Develop partnerships with key people in your child’s life. Engage your friends and family members, your child’s friends, other parents, sitters, daycare providers, school cafeteria staff, maintenance staff, transportation staff and coaches. Each contact is important as everyone plays a role in your child’s food allergy management.
5. Self Help Is the Best Help
Teach your child to self-advocate. This is generally more difficult with toddlers but as children age they can be their own best advocates. Talk with your children and explain what their allergy is and why it is important they avoid eating foods that can harm them. Let them know what foods can harm them, but try to focus on the foods they can eat. If kids are more excited about the foods they can eat than the foods they can’t eat, they are more likely to follow appropriate diet choices and not sneak food.
6. Be Proactive Regarding Social Events
No parent likes to be the bad guy by telling a child, “you can’t eat that” or “there’s nothing here you can eat,” in the middle of a social event. If you suspect a social gathering may be a potential food nightmare, call ahead and find out. Bring a small treat for your child to have instead of the birthday cake everyone else is eating that might send your child to the hospital. Alternatively, ask the host if it’s okay for you to bring an additional treat for all the kids as your contribution to the event. This way, your child can feel included and not isolated by his or her food restrictions.
7. Keep an Emergency Medical Kit Close
Prepare a medical kit specific to your child’s allergies. You can fill it with the usual suspects such as aspirin, band aids, bug spray and antibiotic ointment. Also be sure to include any prescription items like inhalers, EpiPens or other necessary medications in event of an emergency. Try to keep a kit at home, in the car and at school.
8. There’s an App for That
As technology has developed, so has our use of smartphone applications. We rely on them for everything from finding a gas station in an unfamiliar area to purchasing that beloved triple latte from the local coffee shop. Apps for allergies are no different. Presently, there is an abundance of smartphone apps dedicated to helping people manage allergies. Apps can identify allergy friendly restaurants and stores, assist in creating an allergy free kitchen, find hospitals and pharmacies wherever you are, and research unknown ingredients listed on food labels. Check your Android or iPhone app store for more information.
9. Cleanliness Is Next to Healthiness
Keep cleansing wipes and portable hand cleansers on hand to wipe down surfaces in cars or at public places like restaurants or waiting rooms. Cross contamination can happen anywhere and it is impossible to know what food residue might be left behind by other people.
It is also important to wipe down surfaces in your home, especially if children suffer from different allergies.
10. Keep Allergy Friendly Snacks Handy
Finding convenient nutritious snacks for kids when you’re “on the run” can be difficult. It can be even harder for kids with allergies, especially those suffering from multiple allergies. Try to keep allergy friendly snacks handy so they are available in situations when the kids get hungry and there is no time to search for “safe” food. An example of a convenient allergy friendly energy bar is the Zego bar. It does not contain any peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, eggs, soy, fish, shellfish or gluten, is low in sugar and is packed with nutrition.