One out of every five Americans suffers from allergies, according to WebMD.com. Dr. Angela Hogan, a Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters allergist and expert on food allergies, answers some commonly asked questions about kids and allergies.
If I have food allergies, will my child have a high chance of having food allergies, too?
Food allergies most commonly occur in children and babies but can occur at any age. If an adult has food allergies, it doesn’t necessarily mean the children will have food allergies. What is inherited is the potential to be allergic to something. If both parents have allergies, there is about a 75 percent chance of the child being allergic. If one of the parents or relatives from either side is allergic, there is a 30-40 percent chance of the kids having some form of allergy.
What each child is allergic to is determined by environmental factors. For food allergies, the amounts of a food or a kind of food eaten, and how often it is eaten, may be important to why the child becomes food allergic. The risk for peanut allergy tends to happen more frequently in families.
Is there any way to prevent getting food allergies? Is there anything I should avoid eating while pregnant?
Avoiding certain foods during pregnancy and early infancy remains very controversial. Restricting a mother's diet during pregnancy or while breast-feeding does not seem prevent the development of allergies. Breast-feeding for the first four to six months helps reduce the risk of food sensitization in infants. Prevention by oral tolerance induction is currently being studied and may be optimized by solid foods introduced during the fourth to sixth month. Delaying solid foods after 6 months or avoiding allergenic foods during the first year of life does not seem to protect against food allergies. You should still only introduce one new food at a time, though.
Can you eventually grow out of food allergies?
Most children outgrow cow's milk, egg, soy and wheat allergy, even if they have a history of a severe reaction. About 20% of children with peanut allergy will outgrow it. About 9% of children with tree nut allergy will outgrow it. An allergist can help decide when the child might have outgrown a food allergy. Adults usually do not outgrow their food allergies.
I’ve heard of “nut-free” preschools/daycares. Is that really necessary if I have a child with a peanut allergy?
A nut-free facility is fine but not absolutely necessary. It depends on the preparedness of the facility. Certainly younger kids are messier and get food on tables and chairs. If a daycare washes surfaces, hands and faces well, risks can be decreased. There are children with severe milk allergy who are not in milk-free environments and children with many other food allergies too.
The most important factor is the education of the staff in food allergy safety and training on how to manage a severe reaction called anaphylaxis, in which the throat can close up making it impossible for the child to breathe. With good planning regarding meal and snack time, children can be kept safe and part of the group. A good website for more information regarding preschool and school food allergy safety is www.foodallergy.com, the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network.
How can I educate my child about his/her food allergy?
Food allergy education for children begins at an early age. You can begin by reading stories about food allergies and teaching them what foods they should not have. You should teach them to tell others what foods they cannot have and also to ask before someone gives them something to eat. You should help them find words to describe if they feel funny after eating a food. You should teach them about their emergency medicines and if possible not to be afraid of treating a reaction if needed with “the shot”. Playing with the demonstrator can help reduce fears and build confidence too. You want to make sure they don’t feel like an outcast and focus on all the ways they are like other children instead of different. You should try to include them in as many activates as possible with advanced planning. You should also encourage your child to discuss if they are being bullied for their food allergies.
Where can you find gluten free and other such foods?
Finding allergy-free foods can be challenging at times. Food labels do make it easier but you have to read them. They should state clearly if allergens are contained in the product. There are online stores that can help you get special foods such as www.navanfoods.com and also a gluten free websites to order foods from like www.glutenfreely.com. One our favorite snacks are Lucy’s cookies available at grocery stores and at www.drlucys.com.
You should always read the label every time you purchase a food because sometimes the product can change its ingredients. Support groups can also help share tips for finding foods and eating out. Two local support groups are www.fasgot.com (Food Allergy Support Group of the Tidewater) and www.foodallergyassociation.org.