By Megan Shake, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.
Food. We all need it and can’t live without it. It’s what brings us together whether it’s a family dinner, a holiday, a work pitch-in, or a party. However, for families with food allergies, a shared meal can lead to stress, anxiety, and even fear.
Unless you or someone you know has a food allergy, you may not realize the true impact allergies can have on the child and their family. Statistics show that one in every 13 kids has a food allergy, and every 3 minutes a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room.
While there are foods known to be top allergens, any food can be an allergen. The one thing that all food allergies have in common is that they all have the potential to be life threatening. There is no way to predict if a reaction will be mild or severe, and how someone reacts once does not predict future reactions.
So, what is it like for a child who has a food allergy? It can look different for everyone. It can mean eating anywhere outside of their home is challenging. Between snacks brought into school and meals served in the cafeteria, the child has to be careful of what is eaten at school. It can also mean eating at home before attending an event or reviewing a menu and calling to ask about ingredients before going to a restaurant.
There are things people can do to help those affected feel safer and more at ease. If someone in your life has an allergy, know what the person is allergic to and remember it.
Read food labels. Not all foods label allergens separately so reading a food label means reading the whole ingredient list to see if an allergen is listed. Also be on the lookout for the “may contain” label. Some people eat foods with these labels while others strictly avoid those foods.
Understand cross contamination. Not only does this include being aware of “may contain” labels, but it also means understanding how to put certain practices into place when preparing a meal or eating. Wiping down counter spaces after using certain ingredients or using separate utensils when cooking are great starting points.
Know potential symptoms of an allergic reaction. This could include hives, nausea, vomiting, coughing, wheezing, itching, and swelling. Also know the plan for the child if any of these symptoms were to occur. For example, an allergic reaction may mean giving Benadryl or could mean administering an Epi Pen and going to the hospital.
Lastly, go out of your way and prepare food that is considered safe for those with allergies. Ask questions and double check. It’s such a relief for a family to get to their destination and realize there is food that is allergy-friendly. Yes, it’s a lot of extra work, but I promise the child and their family will appreciate it more than you know!