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Coping with food allergies

When your child has a food allergy, everyday events like birthday parties, field trips and eating lunch in the school cafeteria could be hazardous to his or her health. Avoiding the most common food allergens in children—milk, eggs, peanuts, wheat, soy and tree nuts like walnuts or pecans—can be a challenge because they’re pervasive in typical family fare and often lurk as minor ingredients in many other foods like cake, snacks and Chinese takeout.

Consuming a tiny bit of the offending food or even coming into contact with it can trigger an allergic reaction. While some symptoms are mild like a rash, runny nose and itchy eyes, others like abdominal pain, dizziness and vomiting are more serious. Some kids suffer reactions that quickly progress to anaphylaxis, a life-threatening condition that causes a swollen throat, breathing difficulty, plunging blood pressure and shock. To protect your child, remain vigilant about avoiding the allergen and take these steps:

  • Read labels carefully. Check the ingredients list for the food or food protein and its alternate names. If your child is allergic to eggs, for example, you’ll need to avoid foods that contain eggs, albumin and meringue and check labels on noodles, marzipan, marshmallows, nougat, pasta and artificial flavorings.
  • Notify key people. Explain your child’s allergy to child-care providers, school personnel, playmates’ parents and other adults who interact with your child. Tell them what precautions to take and how to recognize symptoms. Many schools provide peanut-free cafeteria tables or zones for children with this highly sensitive allergy.
  • Prepare for an emergency. Write an action plan in which you explain the steps to take and medications to give if your child has an allergic reaction. Provide a copy to the school nurse and others who care for your child. Ask your child’s doctor if you should carry an epinephrine kit so you can give an injection of adrenaline in an emergency.
  • Teach your child to speak up. Insist your child wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace. Teach him or her how to ask adults about a food’s ingredients and to seek help at the first sign of a reaction.
  • Provide alternate foods. Give your child’s teacher a stash of safe snacks he or she can substitute for a classmate’s birthday treat, which may contain an allergen.