NYACK, N.Y. -- Caring for a child with food allergies requires special education. Although many children outgrow them at a young age, food allergies still affect up to 2 million people in the United States, and studies show that children are much less likely to outgrow peanut, tree nuts or seafood allergies. When dealing with these long-term allergens, it's important for parents and children to be proactive and take the necessary precautions.
For parents who think their child may have food allergies, it's important to first talk to their doctor. Children will often undergo a skin test or blood test to look for specific foods that may trigger allergy symptoms. Once a child is diagnosed with a food allergy, it's important to become educated on which foods contain that ingredient and avoid it in every form. “I’ve seen cases where someone cooks a meal with peanuts, and then simply picks out the nuts and serves it to a child allergic to peanuts," said Dr. MaLourdes de Asis, Section Chief of Allergy and Immunology at Nyack Hospital. "That child can’t eat any food that has touched peanuts—it can still cause an allergic reaction. Picking out the nuts isn’t enough." When in doubt, she stressed that it's important to ask the cook or read the label for ingredients.
Parents and allergic children must also carry an auto-injectable epinephrine device (EpiPen or AUVI-Q) to treat emergency reactions, and family members, school nurses and other close acquaintances should be familiar with how to use the device. As a safeguard, de Asis encourages patients to consider wearing a medical alert bracelet describing their allergy.
Although policing an allergy can be difficult, relief for children may be on the way. Thanks to new medical developments, doctors are working to reduce the impact of food allergies and in some cases, eliminating them entirely. "New treatments on the horizon have shown promise for treating food allergies, especially peanut allergies," said de Asis. "Using a treatment called immunotherapy, children are exposed to incrementally increasing doses of peanut protein to develop tolerance and no longer suffer allergic reactions."
Despite the dangers associated with food allergies, de Asis explained it's not all gloom and doom. “There’s no reason for parents of a child with food allergies to be afraid,” said de Asis. “You just need to be aware and take precautions.”