Food Allergies in Children: An Overview
An allergy is defined as an excessive reaction of the immune system to an offending agent such as a food item or drug. Any child who upon ingesting, inhaling or touching a certain food item develops skin rashes (or hives), swelling of the lips or face, cramps or nausea is said to be allergic to that substance. These reactions develop almost immediately on contact with the offending item and are more common in children with a family history of allergies.
Children and Food Allergies
Close to 6 million children in the United States are known to suffer from some food allergy. An allergic reaction is responsible for a visit to the emergency room every 3 minutes and with an estimated cost of $25 billion annually, it is imperative to know how to prevent and treat an allergic reaction.
How to Treat an Allergy
As with many other illnesses, prevention is the best remedy available for food allergies. Proper identification and avoidance of the implicated food substance may be life-saving in this regard.
Reading all food labels, with special emphasis on identifying the allergens present in food must be done. Inform your family, friends, and colleagues about your medical condition and take their help in trying to avoid the offending agent.
If your baby is allergic to milk or soy, you might be asked to switch them to specially prepared formula feeds or to continue feeding only with breast milk.
When preventing contact with the implicated food item is not feasible, your doctor may prescribe certain drugs to treat your allergy. These include antihistamines for mild allergies, whilst severe reactions are treated with epinephrine injections. Do check the expiration dates on these medications.
Be sure to properly learn the technique of giving an epinephrine shot. Always keep the injection with you and administer it immediately if an allergic reaction occurs. A medical bracelet listing your allergies should also be worn at all times for proper protection. Such bracelets are now readily available in the market.
Children with Food Allergies
Children with food allergies need special care and parents must be vigilant to avoid contact with the offending agent. The child may develop an allergic reaction almost immediately or within 10 to 60 minutes of contact and thus, must be observed for a prolonged period of time in a hospital. Consult a dietician to know which foods can help maintain a healthy diet for your child.
The child should always wear an alert bracelet listing all his food allergies. Children should always carry the epinephrine shot with themselves.
Inform the child’s teachers, coaches, friends, and babysitters of the food allergy your child is suffering from. Make sure all these caregivers are aware of the clinical symptoms of an allergic reaction. Upon encountering a food allergy, they must know how to give the epinephrine shot to the child and must call for medical help at once.
All parents should also be on a careful lookout for symptoms of a severe allergic reaction (or anaphylaxis). The child may have difficulty in breathing with a sudden fall in blood pressure. Epinephrine shots must be rapidly administered in such cases along with a transfer to the emergency room.
Newer modalities of treating food allergies are being developed. Foremost among these is immunotherapy, in which small doses of the offending food substance is given to the person to make the immune system more tolerant. This process (called desensitization) is still under clinical trials.
Allergies may negatively impact the quality of life of children and early identification/ treatment may not only save the life of the child but also improve their performance at school.