Dealing With the Anxiety and Uncertainty of Food Allergies

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sees food allergies in the school system as a huge public health concern. They estimate between four and six percent of school-aged children in the United States are affected by food allergies.

While this number may not seem very high to people who don’t have any food allergies, all it takes is one situation to quickly spiral out of control to see how dangerous it is to minimize the impact of food allergies. Many foods don’t require someone to actually ingest the allergen to cause a reaction. In many instances, being in the same room and being exposed to a food is enough to cause a potentially life-threatening situation.  

Here are some startling facts that, as a parent of children with food allergies, you have to be cognizant of each and every moment of the day:

  • Every three minutes a food allergy sends a child to the emergency room.

  • Between the years 1997 and 2008, allergies to peanuts and tree nuts increased three-fold in children in the United States.

  • Forty percent of children with food allergies have had a severe reaction to an allergen to experience anaphylaxis.

  • Between 1997 and 2011, the prevalence of food allergies in children is up 50 percent.

  • Unlike food intolerances, there is no cure for food allergies.

  • It’s estimated that 5.9 million children under the age of 18 live with food allergies.

  • Approximately 30 percent of children with food allergies have an allergy to more than one food.

  • The eight most common culprits of food allergies are eggs, fish, soy, peanuts, milk, tree nuts, wheat and crustacean shellfish.

  • There are 170 foods known to cause food allergies.

  • Food intolerances are not the same as food allergies.

  • Once anaphylaxis starts, epinephrine must be injected within minutes.

  • All food allergies are potentially life-threatening.

Minimizing the Anxiety

Although there are many theories about why food allergies are increasing in both frequency and severity, these theories matter little to you as you worry about your child’s exposure to allergens in food—both known and unknown.

If your child lives with food allergies, you know how anxiety-inducing it can be. Along with being hyper-aware of everything you buy and feed them, you likely spend a lot of time worrying about those moments when you can’t control what they’re exposed to—at school, in restaurants, with family members and friends, in church and/or at parties.

Parents of children with food allergies are often seen as overly dramatic and making mountains out of molehills, but the truth is, nobody can protect your child as well as you can.

While people mean well, unless doctors, nurses, school teachers, friends, family and clergy live with food allergies and get how serious the issue is, without your due diligence, they won’t care for your child the way it’s instinctual for you to.

Here are some suggestions you can try to both educate those who come in contact with your child and minimize your own anxiety.

Make Lists

Make a list of all your child’s food allergies, with bulleted lists of known symptoms, ways to avoid exposure and treat. Your language can’t be too passive. In other words, you must be very clear how dangerous it is if your child is exposed to an allergen.

Your list could look something like this:

Wheat Allergy

Please note, an allergy to wheat is not the same as an intolerance to gluten or celiac disease. The former can be very uncomfortable, while the latter is an autoimmune disease causing inflammation and damage to the lining of the small intestines. Symptoms of celiac disease and gluten intolerance can be similar, but the causes aren’t the same.

A wheat allergy can cause the following symptoms:

  • Watery eyes

  • Runny nose

  • Swelling in the eyes and surrounding tissue

  • Hives

  • Nasal congestion

  • Headache

Symptoms may be mild or severe and life-threatening, for example anaphylaxis. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

  • Difficulty breathing or inability to breathe

  • Trouble swallowing

  • Skin turning blue—most notably in the face

  • Chest pain or tightness

  • Throat closing due to swelling

  • Dizziness and/or fainting

What to do if my child is having anaphylaxis: Remind my child they have an epinephrine auto-injector in their locker. We’ve done drills many times and they know how to use one. It’s extremely important you know that the window to save my child’s life in the event of an anaphylactic reaction is very narrow. Acting too slowly can be fatal.

After the injection, call me!

If your child is allergic to more than one food, rinse and repeat.

Use the Buddy System

If your child has a good friend, ask them to be his/her buddy to both help the teacher and to keep your child as calm as possible.

Have Your Child Address Their Class

Because your child lives with food allergies, they need to be comfortable talking about it with kids in the class, with teachers and even strangers. Have them tell all the kids in the class in the event they have an allergic reaction in school. The intention here is to dispel the mysteries about food allergies, explain how serious food allergies are and how each kid in your child’s class can play an important role in keeping your child safe.

You’d be surprised how seriously each classmate will take their role—whether specifically called upon to help or not.

Ask for Allergy Drills

Talk to the principal at your child’s school and ask for allergy drills: what to do in the event of exposure. This will reinforce the seriousness of your child addressing the class.

If your child has a food allergy, you will never be completely anxiety-free, but you can take many steps to minimize your fear, giving your child the gift of better quality-of-life.

What steps do you take to reduce your anxiety and worry about your little one’s food allergies? Please share your suggestions in the comments below.