Food allergies and kids: What parents should know

Kids and peanut butter usually are a great combination. Except when a child has an allergic reaction. One of my oldest friends recently called me in a panic. Her mom had just given her 2-year-old daughter, Susie, peanut butter. Susie quickly began breathing rapidly, her faced swelled, and she broke out in hives. Susie didn’t even eat the peanut butter. It simply touched her lips.

If your child is allergic to a food, reactions can happen quickly. You need to respond just as quick. Susie’s reaction happened in a matter of minutes. Benadryl helped her this time, but it took three days for the hives to go away.

It’s very important to understand that a reaction to a food can happen at any time. This was Susie’s first known exposure to peanuts, but she could have had very small exposures at other times and never had a reaction.

If your child has a food allergy, it means his or her immune system overreacts when exposed to that food, such as peanuts. The body produces antibodies called Immunoglobulin E. If the child is exposed to that food again, it interacts with the IgE antibody, causing the release of substances that produce an allergic reaction.

With proper testing, food allergies easily can be diagnosed. The best form of treatment is avoidance. This means avoidance of the food itself and any product that may be processed with it, since there always is a risk of cross contamination. Peanuts most often are a lifelong allergy, but about 10 percent of kids diagnosed with peanut allergy will outgrow it.

Any food reaction has the potential to be severe. A severe reaction is one involving more than one body part, like itching and hives, swelling of the throat or tongue, difficulty breathing or dizziness. Benadryl can be given for any type of allergic reaction. Kids with food allergies also should carry auto-injectable epinephrine, commonly known as an EpiPen®, which can quickly counter a severe allergic reaction. Epinephrine is a short-acting medication, so after using it, still seek medical care for your child.

Susie did ultimately see an allergist and have allergy tests, which came back positive for peanuts. She now carries an emergency pack containing Benadryl and her EpiPen Jr. ® When she goes to school, she’ll need to eat at the peanut-free table in the lunchroom and have her food allergy action plan on file in the health room. Susie also wears a MedicAlert® bracelet at all times. She has not had an accidental exposure to peanuts since her diagnosis, and her mom is doing a great job of educating friends, family members and her babysitters about peanut allergies.

If you’d like to learn more about food allergies, join me for an educational session from 6-8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 3 at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Clinics-New Berlin. The cost is $5. To register, call maxiSHARE at (800) 444-7747 or register online.


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