I am often asked what else can be done to help one’s child with food allergies. I truly believe that the more you know, the more empowered you can be to help your child lead as happy and as normal a life as possible. Below are some commonly asked questions that I hope will be helpful to you and your family, ranging from the psychological effects of food allergies in children to the latest clinical research in food allergies and how you can get involved!
How can my child help to prevent a food allergic reaction?
Once children become verbal, they can let others know that they have a food allergy. When offered food, the children in my family with food allergies will let the person offering the food know that they have a food allergy. They typically do not share or take food from other children or adults because even the most well-meaning person may not realize that the chocolate chip cookie they offered was contaminated with peanut butter from the peanut butter cookies they had made at the same time while using the same spatula. This has unfortunately happened to many a peanut allergic child.
How does a food allergy affect my child psychologically?
One study showed that having a food allergy was similar to having Type I diabetes in children. It is important to recognize that children may feel frustrated by their food allergies as they may not be able to enjoy all the different foods that their friends and family are eating. Some families may decide if their child is milk allergic to have a birthday cake made without milk. Or if they go to a birthday party, a special and treasured muffin or cake is made for the food allergic child so that he or she does not feel like he or she is missing out.
How can I tell if my child is being bullied or teased because of his or her food allergy?
In one study 24% of children (and 35% five years and older) with food allergies were victims of bullying, teasing, or harassment. For 86% of these children, the teasing, harassment and bullying occurred numerous times at school. Unfortunately, one-fifth of food allergy-related bullying involved school staff.
The children were both verbally teased and physically threatened with the food to which they are allergic. Two-thirds of the children felt sad, depressed, embarrassed and/or humiliated because of the teasing and bullying.
As a parent, you should regularly ask your child whether anyone is giving them a hard time about their food allergy. If your child seems sad, depressed or withdrawn, you should ask them what is causing them to feel this way and get them help if needed. Child psychologists can be very helpful in this regard. School staff should adopt a zero tolerance policy for bullying and have in place a plan for quickly dealing with bullying and teasing. You can also engage your pediatrician and allergist to educate the school staff, parents, and children about food allergies.
Should my child wear a Medic Alert bracelet?
Absolutely. Medic Alert bracelets are important to wear in case your child is having an allergic reaction and cannot communicate because of breathing or blood pressure problems.
We recommend that the bracelet state the following:
“Food Allergy -> Epinephrine and call 911.” Make sure to add your contact number (e.g. cell phone number) if there is room.
Should I hold off on introducing certain foods to my children to prevent food allergies?
The evidence is not clear that delaying the introduction of certain foods will decrease the odds for developing food allergies. Research is currently being done to determine whether early introduction of peanuts into a child’s diet affects the development of food allergies. No results have yet been published, but when they become available they will be widely shared.
Besides strict avoidance and epinephrine are there any other treatments for food allergies?
People are becoming desensitized to food allergens by ingesting small daily, incrementally increasing doses of food allergen. This has proven effective and relatively safe, but should only be done in a research trial. Other treatments currently under research investigation are a traditional Chinese medication, Xolair (an anti-allergy antibody medication), recombinant food proteins, and ingestion of eggs of a parasite called whipworm.
If you are interested in food allergy research trials for your child, please look at clinicaltrials.gov.
How can I meet other families who have children with food allergies?
There are often many local support groups in the area who meet to help each other. One such resource to help you find a support group is found on foodallergy.org. You can also ask your allergist for tips for finding other families or support groups that may be helpful to you.
What are other resources for parents whose children have food allergies?
- Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network – an excellent resource for everyone with food allergies. They send out e-mail alerts about contaminated food products and a newsletter with very informative articles by food allergy experts. The website also contains books, videos, and other teaching tools to educate children with food allergies as well as schools and workplaces about food allergies. This is a must-see!
- “Food Allergies for Dummies” by Robert Wood MD Allergist. An excellent and detailed book for people with food allergies.
- How to Manage Your Child’s Life-Threatening Food Allergies – Practical Tips for Everyday Life by Linda Marienhoff Coss. Containing more than 200 pages of tips on how to manage a child’s food allergy, this book includes hundreds of easy-to-read tips, numerous checklists, sample forms, and real-life examples.
- The Parent’s Guide to Food Allergies by Marianne S. Barber with Maryanne Bartoszek Scott, M.D., and Elinor Greenberg, Ph. D. This book provides an extensive exploration of all aspects of food allergy management in day-to-day life. An invaluable resource for those struggling with a new diagnosis.
- Caring for Your Child with Severe Food Allergies by Lisa Cipriano Collins, M.A., M.F.T. This informative book offers pertinent facts to help families cope with the emotional aspects of raising a child who has severe food allergies. Parents will learn both how to reduce risk while encouraging normal emotional development and how to address the needs of the child as well as the rest of the family.