By Nicky Devonshire, LCSW, Courier & Press, Feb. 14, 2017 –

Valentine’s Day, a day to celebrate those we love.  If you are a parent like me, however, romantic dinners have been replaced with frantic nights of creating the perfect Valentine’s treats for your children and their classmates.

Sweet treats make for an extra special day for most kids.  For children with food allergies, however, this day can lead to anxiety and fear.

As a parent of a child with food allergies, I understand how these celebrations can lead to additional worries and concerns.  With the support of others, I can plan ahead to keep my child safe, which helps alleviate some of the anxiety my child may be feeling.

Currently, one out of 13 children has a food allergy.  Some studies have shown that children with food allergies are more likely to experience anxiety when separated from their parents.

You may be a grandparent, teacher, coach or friend of a child with a food allergy.  You can help relieve some of the anxiety by making children with food allergies feel safer in their environment.  Here are some helpful hints:

Learn to read ingredient labels or save labels for the parent to read.

Many foods may not contain the actual allergen as an ingredient but could be manufactured in close proximity to other foods that do contain the allergen.  As a food allergy parent, I read every label.  I’m the lady standing in the grocery aisle blocking your way because I’m reading all 89 ingredients in the crackers that I have bought 100 times before.  Yes, I read it every time because ingredients change.

Know the symptoms of an allergic reaction.

Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, repetitive coughing, wheezing, nasal congestion, itching, swelling, hives and tingling of the mouth and throat.  Be aware that sometimes only one or two symptoms will occur.

Learn how to use epinephrine injections.

If a child has an allergic reaction, it is important to act quickly.  Epinephrine is a medication that can help reverse symptoms and possibly save a life.  The most common injection is the EpiPen.  Learn how to use the EpiPen before a reaction occurs.  A video of instructions can be found on Directions can also be found on the label.  After you inject, call 911 and get immediate medical attention.

Understand that an allergic reaction can be induced by a very small amount.

According to “The Peanut Allergy Answer Book” by Michael C. Young, an individual could have a reaction to 1 mg, or 1/1000 of a gram.  The average peanut weighs 500 to 800 mg.  This makes my heart race a little.  Let’s face it, kids bite their nails, pick their noses, and well, eat.  So if my kiddo happens to put his ham and cheese down where your kiddo had his PB&J, the results can be scary.  This is why parents often request that classrooms be free of food or certain allergens.

Go the extra mile.

I’ll use this category to give some examples of incredible people who “go the extra mile.”  My friend thoroughly cleaned her car (just to be safe) before driving my toddler to the movies.  A teacher stopped her first grade class to call the 1-800 number on the box of cookies so she could assure my son they were safe for him. We have friends who still invite us over for dinner even though we can be complicated to feed.  I’m thankful for the people who allow me to educate them on food allergies and listen sympathetically to my concerns.

When a food-allergic child knows they are in the care of someone who understands their allergy and takes extra time to make them feel safe, they will likely feel less anxious.  These individuals and their efforts do not go unnoticed. On this Valentine’s Day, I would like to thank them for their continuous understanding, kindness and love!