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Allergies and Children: A Parent's Guide

Childhood allergies are increasingly prevalent in the US. In 2021, 18.9% suffered from seasonal allergies, 5.8% dealt with food allergies, and 10.8% had eczema, totaling more than 25% of children with allergies. Among these, food allergies, posing potential life-threatening risks, are a major concern for parents. 


Photo by Artem Kniaz on Unsplash


Even parents whose children haven't been diagnosed with allergies may worry about their child developing one. Thankfully, proactive measures exist for parents, whether their child has a diagnosed allergy or they're watchful due to family history or other concerns. These steps include recognizing signs, managing allergies, informing others, and preparing for emergencies. 


Recognizing Common Childhood Allergies

Childhood allergies fall into two categories: environmental and food. Although some persist lifelong, children may outgrow certain allergies. However, ongoing exposure to allergens can intensify reactions, potentially leading to severe, even fatal outcomes. Parental awareness of prevalent childhood allergies, their symptoms, and preventive measures is critical when managing a child's allergic conditions.


Environmental Allergies

Environmental allergies include seasonal allergies and allergies to things that are touched. Things Items that cause allergic reactions include: 

  • Pollens

  • Weeds

  • Grasses

  • Molds

  • Dust mites

  • Pet dander

  • Latex

  • Feathers

  • Bee or other insect stings


Food Allergies

These types of allergies typically mean the child reacts when they eat the food by itself and when it is an ingredient in a recipe. These allergies can be particularly tricky for parents to deal with because they cannot always be certain which foods may contain their child’s allergens. 

Common food allergies for children include: 

  • Eggs

  • Milk

  • Peanuts

  • Tree nuts (almonds, cashews, pecans)


Allergy Symptoms

Symptoms of these allergies may include: 

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

  • Swelling of the lips, eyes, and face

  • Breathlessness, coughing, wheezing, noisy breathing

  • Hoarseness

  • Sneezing

  • Stuffy or runny nose

  • Stomach pain

  • Feeling or getting sick (nausea or vomiting)

  • Diarrhea

  • Red, itchy, and/or watery eyes

  • Itching in the nose, roof of mouth, or ears

  • Itchy rash, hives, or welts (red bumps or raised areas of skin)

  • Anaphylaxis (trouble breathing, vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure, fainting, and possible death) 


Because the symptoms of environmental and food allergies can be so similar, parents should talk to their child’s doctor and get a diagnosis. 


Managing Allergies at School and Social Events

For children, school and social events such as birthday parties and sleepovers are just a part of life. For parents of a child with food allergies, school and social events can mean spending hours worrying about the foods their child may be exposed to, even unintentionally. 


Even if parents prepare their children's school lunches and provide snacks for social events, exposure to allergens remains a concern. For severe allergies, such as peanuts, even a small amount of airborne peanut dust poses a life-threatening risk. This means another child consuming the allergen and subsequently coming into contact with the allergic child or their belongings could trigger a severe reaction.


How can parents help their children manage allergies when they’re at school or socializing? Consider these tips: 

  • Make teachers, parents, and other adults present aware of your child’s allergy, its severity, and any medications used to help control the allergy. 

  • Teach your child about their allergy, how to recognize symptoms, and what to do if they think they’re having an allergic reaction. 

  • Ask the school if school-provided meals are allergen-free. 

  • Send backup treats and snacks when your child is attending events where allergen-free food may not be available (birthday parties, class holiday parties, etc.). 

  • Teach your child to communicate their allergy effectively to others so they can advocate for themselves. 

  • Make sure your child has access to their allergy medication or epinephrine auto-injector and that your child and at least one adult around them know how and when to use it. 

  • Read and teach your child to read food labels. In particular, avoid purchasing foods labeled “may contain,” “manufactured in a facility that also processes,” and “manufactured on shared equipment” when your child’s allergen follows those words.

  • Teach your child to look for their allergen’s name in different ways. For example, if they have a milk allergy, they should steer clear of ingredients like buttermilk. If they have a wheat allergy, they’ll want to look for “flour (wheat).” 

Educating Caregivers About Allergy Management

When leaving your child in someone else’s care, you’ll want to be sure they understand your child’s allergy and how to manage it.

Some ways you can do this include: 

  • Explaining the allergy, foods to avoid, and safety precautions you take. 

  • Leaving a list of your child’s symptoms and what to do if a reaction occurs.

  • Showing the caregiver how to use the epinephrine auto-injector. 

  • Teaching the caregiver to read food labels and explain cross-contact.

  • Teaching the caregiver to act first and call you once the reaction is under control.

Emergency Preparedness and Epinephrine Auto-Injectors

Children with severe food allergies need to carry an epinephrine auto-injector. Make sure anyone acting as the child's caregiver knows how to use the device.

If the epinephrine auto-injector is used, someone should immediately call 911 as soon as possible. The medicine in the device wears off after 20-30 minutes, and the reaction may return. Prompt medical attention is crucial to ensuring the child’s safety. 


Supporting Emotional Well-Being

Suffering from food allergies can make a child feel left out and alone. Parents can help support their child’s emotional well-being by:

  • Listening to your child and not minimizing their feelings.

  • Teaching your child what to do if they are bullied for their allergy or any other reason.

  • Focusing on other aspects of your child beyond their food allergy.

  • Helping them come up with solutions to problems (such as what to do at a social event where they can’t eat the food).


The Safe Takeaway

With proper knowledge and proactive measures, parents hold the key to ensuring their child's safety and well-being. By staying informed, fostering awareness among caregivers and educators, and having emergency plans in place, parents can effectively manage their children's allergies even when they're not present. This proactive approach empowers both the child and those responsible for their care, ensuring a safer and more confident environment for the child to thrive.

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