What to Do if Your Child Has Food Allergies

Nut allergies are on the rise among childrenBy Kristin Sidorov
Scary, challenging, and seemingly more commonplace than ever, food allergies pose serious health and safety risks for millions of American children. And while we’ve gotten used to seeing “peanut-free zones,” a recent study suggests that it might be time to take a closer look at allergy severity and what it means.

The new study reports that nearly 6 million children have some kind of allergy to foods. That’s roughly 1 in every 12 kids, and nearly double what health professionals had originally assumed. Of those, nearly 30 percent are allergic to multiple foods, and nearly 40 percent have severe or life-threatening reactions.  Scary indeed. The most common allergies are to:

1. Peanuts (25%)
2. Milk (21%)
3. Shellfish (17%)
4. Tree nuts (13%)

These foods were followed closely by eggs, finned fish, strawberries, wheat, and soy. This new information raises important questions: Why are food allergies so widespread, and what can we do about it?

While many experts believe that food allergies are on the rise, they’re unable to pin down a specific cause.  Many point to the “hygiene hypothesis,” which suggests that the hyper-cleanliness of our culture may have actually prevented kids from getting the exposure to germs they need in order to develop natural antibodies. Others think it might be due to the changes in food production, or the types of foods kids are fed (and not fed) early in life.

But without a clear reason, it’s hard to determine what the best course of treatment is; as a result, it’s become standard practice for kids to avoid the foods they’re allergic to, and for parents to carry an emergency stash of Benadryl and EpiPens at all times. Obviously that’s not ideal, and this approach can be a huge strain on a family, especially if the allergy is severe.

But hope isn’t out of reach, and doctors, parents, and researchers have begun to reevaluate how to handle the growing problem. Allergists are exploring new possibilities for treatment and prevention, including a theory that the very foods causing the allergies may be key to curing them. Small steps are being made, and knowing how prevalent the issue is helps us understand the scope of the problem and what needs to be done.

Today, awareness and prevention are key in keeping kids safe. Typically, allergies run in families, and many experts recommend breast-feeding as a way to protect children from developing them. If that isn’t an option, try using a low-allergen formula. And while there’s no cure yet, the good news is that many children with some of the most common types of food allergies (milk, eggs, wheat, soy) will eventually outgrow them as their bodies develop.

If you suspect your child might have a food allergy, talk to your doctor. Signs and symptoms usually include wheezing, coughing, hives or itching, tingling in the mouth, swelling, and dizziness. Be sure to check with your doctor about outgrowing allergies, too — if you want to try incorporating a food back into your child’s diet, it should always be done under the strict supervision of a health professional.


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Erin T. Gates is a Boston-based interior designer, blogger, and curator of all things stylish. She began her blog, Elements of Style, in 2007 and formed her own design company, Erin Gates Design, shortly thereafter. Her work and writing have been featured in publications, such as O, The Oprah Magazine, Ladies Home Journal, House Beautiful, Boston Magazine, Inside Weddings, and Better Homes and Gardens. She is married to Andrew Gates and is mom to her two furry kids, Baxter and Oliver. They live in Boston.


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Megan Scott is the newest member of the JOY clan. After meeting John Becker in Asheville, North Carolina, she was warmly welcomed into the family and the happy couple was married on September 29, 2012. After graduating with a degree in French literature, Megan worked in a bakery where she honed her pastry skills and developed a passion for high-quality baked goods of all kinds. This experience with fast-paced industrial kitchen work inspired her to create her farmer's market baking business, The Little Blue Baking Company. Megan's work for JOY involves a little bit of everything. She is JOY's blogger-in-residence, she works with John on digital projects, newspaper articles, and food photography, and has spearheaded the Joy of Cooking's kitchen garden and flock of chickens. During her time off, she maintains a lively sourdough starter, sews, spins wool, and does yoga.

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