Living with food allergies
How to prepare your child to live with a food allergy
In Australia 6-8% of children have a food allergy. The most common are peanut, egg and cow's milk allergies.
Peanuts are the most common cause of anaphylaxis, a severe life-threatening allergic reaction. Because of this, most childcare centres are ‘nut-free zones’. Some schools also try to be ‘nut-free zones’, but this is near impossible to enforce. Therefore, schools tend to promote allergy awareness instead - a program designed to educate children about food allergies and what they can do to stay safe. This is also something we, as parents, can work on at home.
Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia has a great framework.
Make sure everyone who looks after your child (family, friends, babysitters, childcare, school etc) know what your child is allergic to and what to do in an emergency.
Be aware that small amounts of a food can trigger a serious allergic reaction.
Have your child wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace if the allergy is severe.
Make sure your child knows what they are allergic to. You’d be surprised how keen kids are to tell everyone ‘I can’t eat nuts. I’m allergic.’
Teach your child that what they are allergic to can be hidden in foods and they may not be able to see it eg. egg in a cake, trace of nut in a chocolate bar.
Teach your child to recognise the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction eg. tingling lips/tongue, itchy throat, difficulty breathing.
Consider not having the allergen (the food that your child is allergic to) in the house
If you do have the allergen in your home, have strategies to keep your child safe:
- keep it out of reach, in a locked cupboard or in a sealed labelled container in the fridge
- have a labelled shelf or basket that contains food that your child can eat
- wash contaminated kitchen utensils in hot soapy water or in the dishwasher
- use disposable paper towelling to wipe surfaces that have been in contact with the allergen
Out & about:
Teach your child to avoid the foods he/she is allergic to. If in doubt, don’t eat it.
Don’t share food. Teach your child that they shouldn’t share food or swap food.
Learn to read food labels. Food Standards Australia New Zealand require mandatory labelling of foods that contain peanut, egg, milk, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, soy and sesame (these cause 90% of food allergies in Australia). As your child gets older, teach them to read food labels.
Accidents happen. Act quickly.
If your doctor has prescribed an adrenaline/epinephrine autoinjector (EpiPen®), always carry it with you, give one to your child’s childcare/school, and never let it expire.
Make sure everyone who looks after your child knows what to do if your child starts to feel unwell and how to use an EpiPen® in an emergency.
As your child gets older they will start to go to sleep-overs or go out with friends on their own. Make sure they carry their EpiPen® and know how to use it.
EXCITING NEWS: A small clinical trial conducted at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute in Melbourne, Victoria has shown a promising breakthrough in desensitising children to peanut allergies. 80% of children that were given a combination of the probiotic, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, together with peanut protein in increasing amounts once daily for 18 months showed a tolerance to peanuts at the end of the trial. 80% of these children were still able to eat peanuts 4 years after the original treatment program. Desensitisation programs like this should be administered under the close supervision of a doctor suitably trained in this field.
Related Children's Books
Marty's nut-free Party by Katrina Roe
Marty is a monkey who is allergic to nuts. Each time he goes to a friend's party, he is exposed to nuts and ends up in hospital. When Marty's friends realise that parties are just no fun without him, they work out a way to make parties fun and safe for everyone.