Kids and Food Allergies: A Life-Changing Diagnosis

My daughter and son both have friends they’ve met through school with food allergies.  Some kids are allergic to one food, but others are allergic to many.  Obviously, the more the kids are allergic to the harder to accommodate their food needs.  The eight foods that account for 90 percent of all food-allergic reactions in the United States are: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (e.g., walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, pecans), wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish.  When kids are allergic to milk, usually they can drink soy, but if they are allergic to both it  gets even trickier.  You need to find things like Rice Milk or Coconut Milk as substitutes.  The substituting of foods can become pricey and hard to find.  Most kids with allergies need to find what they can eat and of that what they like to eat.

It can even get harder when parents need to take kids out to eat.  My daughter’s friend’s parents usually look online for ingredients to restaurant menus (which have become a little more accessible in recent years), or they call and ask the restaurant.  Most try to be accommodating, but there can’t always be assurances that things are safe.  Some items obviously come prepackaged from plants that also make food with allergens, so traces can get into the foods.  A trace can be harmful to kids with severe allergies and very dangerous.  The most common symptoms of a food-allergy reaction is hives. Here are other symptoms people can have as well:

  • tingling in the mouth
  • swelling of the tongue and throat
  • difficulty breathing
  • stomach cramps
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • eczema

Parents need to be vigilant though, because a severe allergy is different to an intolerance; it is not just a bit of a rash or a bit of an itch, it is actually life-threatening (anaphylaxis).  I’ve seen my friends’ kids have reactions before, and it is very scary to witness.  My friends have also told me many stories of rushing their kids to the emergency room, and some from just a trace of peanut butter on a straw.  It’s scary to think how a trace can set off such a huge reaction, but it can!

Once parents figure out what their kids are allergic to, they can find things for the kids to eat to keep them healthy and thriving.  There is always the threat and worry parents have to live with daily.  Kids are not home all day and protected, they need to go to school and other events outside the home.  Kids need to do their best to learn how to protect themselves from coming in contact with allergens.  This is something  kids with allergies must learn from their parents.  Obviously, a younger child will have more difficulties with this, as they are curious about foods and have more of an “I want to try” type attitude about the world around them.  Schools in recent years have been more accommodating for kids with allergies (setting up special eating areas for peanut eaters like my daughter’s school has, and selling better types of food), but it’s still difficult to keep the child 100% safe from coming in contact with different types of foods.  I remember watching Trace Adkins, a Country Singer, on Celebrity Apprentice.  He was raising money for the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network because his 6-year-old daughter, Brianna, suffers from life-threatening reactions to peanuts, milk and eggs.  I remember him saying that his wife met his daughter every single day at lunch time because of the worry of a reaction occurring.

What do children with food allergies do if they come in contact with foods they are allergic to?  Well, if they have a reaction, usually doctors prescribe an antihistamine, such as Benadryl®; however, if there is a severe reaction, then epinephrine may need to be used (also called an EpiPen®).  Parents work with doctors to know what is best for each child and how severe the allergy usually is for that specific child.  Most parents I know with kids that have food allergies carry medications with them all the time, and they also have a set stored with the school nurse.  Reactions can happen quickly or slowly, but you always want to be ready just in case.

Kids with food allergies can live a normal and full life, but just like any child with special circumstances they need to know what to do to keep themselves healthy.  It may be more difficult for a child to participate in certain events with other kids, but in most cases parents can help with accommodating their child to keep them involved.  Getting a diagnosis of a food allergy (for kids and adults alike) is a life-altering experience.  Your life is changed on a daily basis, because you do need food to survive.  Your way of life, where you shop, what you cook, where you eat, what things you participate in, what trips you take, may all have to be changed in some way, but with making these changes life can still be fulfilling.

Parents and kids need to stay educated, aware, and involved in protecting themselves from allergens.  There is no cure as of now, and the best way to avoid a reaction is to avoid the allergen.  Hopefully everyone (food allergy affected or not), can come to together in awareness to help protect people that are dealing with food allergy reactions and make life a little easier and safer for them!  There are many affected with this, as more than 12 million Americans have food allergies.  This means that it’s 1 in 25, or 4% of the population.  More statistics are listed at this site.

Lastly, here again is the “Welcome to Holland” article I posted in my Special Needs post.  My friend, who has daughters with food allergies, said she could really relate to the Holland article as well.  It is definitely appropriate for people in many circumstances.

* Are you or your children affected by food allergies?  How has the diagnosis changed your everyday life?


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Kristin Wheeler

About Kristin Wheeler

Kristin Wheeler is a stay-at-home mom of a 7 year old daughter and 4 year old son. She was previously a teacher for 8 years (in Virginia, Oklahoma, and California). She taught elementary and middle school, with a focus in technology. Kristin received her Bachelor's degree in Psychology and her Master's in Middle School Education from George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. Her husband is a professor at The University of Rhode Island.