Food Allergies: What every parent should know and how they should be prepared

It can be an incredibly frightening and dangerous experience when your child has an allergic reaction to food.  Food allergies can develop at any time for children under the age of 5. Parents should have a deep understanding of what foods can trigger a reaction and what steps/actions that should be taken post-diagnosis.

Food Allergies

What foods may cause a reaction:

Food allergies are the body’s auto-immune response to a food that it believes to be unsafe. The 8 most common food allergies are:

  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Milk
  • Peanuts
  • Shellfish
  • Soy
  • Tree Nuts 
  • Wheat

What to do when your child has a reaction

Symptoms can be present within a few minutes or up to 1-2 hours. When your child is having a reaction, try your best to stay calm and listen carefully to what they are saying. Your child may communicate by saying “my tongue is itchy” or  “there’s something in my throat”. If the reaction is non-life threatening (cramps, hives, vomiting-no blood), schedule time with your child’s pediatrician to discuss further testing to identify the food(s) causing issues. If the reaction is severe (itching mouth/tongue, difficulty breathing), take your child to the emergency room for treatment immediately.

Questions parents should ask 

Once it is discovered that your child has a food allergy, it’s important to work with their doctor to understand what symptoms your child may present when in contact with food that they are allergic to. It is extremely difficult to predict reactions. Be sure to communicate what foods will “trigger” your child and how to manage their allergy with family, trusted caregivers, and most importantly, their school.

When creating a care plan with their school or caregiver you may want to consider the following questions:  

  • Where is your child’s emergency medication stored during the day?
  • Who is available to assist your child should the Nurse be absent?
  • Can your child carry their EpiPen (Emergency Auto-Injector) at school? Administer the drug themselves? (extreme cases)

In some cases you may be able to encourage your child’s school to adopt a peanut-free environment especially if your child is extremely sensitive. Don’t be afraid to ask.

Educating your child about their allergy

It’s critical to educate your child about their allergy, but how does a parent go about this?

Below are a few ideas to get started:

  • Communicate with your child about the foods they should avoid by using simple terms
    • i.e. “milk makes your tummy hurt” or “eggs makes your body itchy”
  • Involve your child in preparing food at home
    • Getting involved in this process will teach them what foods are safe and how to prepare delicious snacks with or without help
  • If dining out, teach your child to speak up and let the restaurant staff know about their allergy
  • If they can read, show them how to decipher ingredients listed on food labels
  • Educate your child to only consume foods from people trusted by your family that aware of your child’s food allergy

Has your child recently been diagnosed with a food allergy? What has been your greatest challenge in learning how to cope?


Sources: Health schools – Food Allergies in Children – 10 Planning tips when your child has food allergies