I Can’t Eat That!

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Could your child have a food allergy?

In 2017, a study published in the Internal Medicine Journal revealed that as more countries globally take on a more westernized lifestyle, the more likely their children will develop a food allergy. Usually, within minutes or about an hour of consuming a certain food your child develops certain symptoms. These include but aren’t limited to dizziness, diarrhoea, coughing, wheezing, congestion, runny nose, hives, eczema, nausea, light-headedness, itching sensation around the ears or mouth, sneezing, vomiting, stomach pain or swelling of the entire face or just parts of the face such as the tongue.

Children with severe food allergies, usually have a severe reaction called anaphylaxis. This is especially common if they’re allergic to shellfish or peanuts. Common anaphylaxis signs include confusion, swelling in the mouth region, chest pain, turning blue, wheezing, trouble swallowing, fainting, or unconsciousness. These children should always have an epinephrine auto-injector with them. It’s also important that they, and the people in their lives, learn how to administer the injector.

Common Triggers

Food allergies occur when the child’s immune system overreacts towards a certain food introduced into the body. Thinking it’s a foreign invader or virus, the immune system produces antibodies, which results in the allergy symptoms. These can be very severe, with life-threatening consequences. The tricky thing is that parents only find out their children are allergic to certain foods after they’ve eaten it and had a reaction. While any food can trigger an allergic reaction, there are certain food groups or foods that are predominantly common among kids:

Animal Milk

In most cases, this is the first foreign protein that will be introduced into your child’s diet. There have been cases that breastfeeding infants have reacted to the cow-milk in their mother’s diet with eczema or colic. If you’ve started bottle-feeding your little-one with cow milk, look out for vomiting, gassiness, eczema, hives, colic or trouble breathing. If they’re having trouble with cow’s milk, chances are that they’ll struggle with goat or sheep milk as well. It’s still important to see your paediatrician and work out options of ensuring they receive their daily calcium dose.

Eggs

Technically, they are reacting to the protein found in the egg whites. Nevertheless, it’s safer to remove egg from the diet altogether. Should your child be allergic to eggs, you as the parent must become keener on research and reading ingredients labels. For instance, a lot of bakeries glaze their breads with an egg-based glaze. And did you know that some vaccines contain egg protein too?

Nuts

We’re referring to peanuts (which is essentially a legume) and tree nuts such as walnuts, cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans. Interestingly, some children may have a peanut allergy but not towards tree nuts. That said, because nut allergies are the most severe, it’s recommended that the child is kept away from anything with a nutty presence. Like the egg, it is nutritious, but children can survive without both and still have a healthy diet. And like the egg, peanuts show up sneakily in recipes and food labels. For example, restaurants are known to use peanut butter in presentations to hold food together.

Gluten and Wheat

Have you noticed just how big the gluten-free market has become? This protein found in grains damages the small intestine lining, tampering with food absorption. Wheat allergy can manifest as a classic food allergy or as celiac disease. This presents itself as irritability, poor weight gain, abdominal pain, slow growth and diarrhoea.

Shellfish and Fish

Both fall under the seafood category, but they aren’t biologically the same. Consequently, having a fish allergy doesn’t mean that your child will also be allergic to shellfish (shrimp, lobster, crab, oysters, clams, scallops, mussels, etc.). That said, they both have symptoms of hives, stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhoea, nausea, sneezing, runny nose, headaches or difficulty breathing. Worst case scenario, it results in anaphylaxis, which causes the body to go into shock and requires immediate first aid and hospitalisation.

What Now?

  • If you suspect that your child may have a food allergy, consult your paediatrician ASAP. This will help identify which food your child is reacting to and get them the necessity medication if required.
  • Have a talk with your child to help them understand what their allergy is and why they need to avoid that food group from now on. Smaller kids need to be taught the names of foods they must avoid, to help them easily identify unsafe foods. The clear conversation should also show them how they can express themselves, if something goes wrong.
  • It goes without saying that they must avoid that food substance at all cost. That includes training them not to take food from strangers and only from pre-approved adults such as their parents, grandparents or babysitter.
  • Make it a ‘We’ exercise. Read food labels together, go shopping with them, and make meals that are safe for them, together. Involving them from an early age makes it easier for them to assimilate to the food allergy behaviour that will keep them safe.
  • Get them in the habit of always carrying their epinephrine auto-injectors. Also, encourage them to tell others about their food allergy so that they can get used to this function. That way they don’t accidentally get served a harmful dish/snack. Get them a medical bracelet that will alert first responders should the child have a reaction and lose consciousness.
  • Find a support group for you and your child because children can feel isolated having a food restriction. It also helps to identify a role model or peer, your child can look up to, that has the same food allergy as they do. It will show them that they are not defined or limited by their allergy and adapt to the lifestyle faster.
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