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Food Allergies: Protect Your Child at Home and Away

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WebMD Feature

Most food allergy reactions start soon -- within minutes to a couple of hours -- after exposure to a trigger food.

Symptoms can include:

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  • Stomach or intestinal problems, such as vomiting, colic, diarrhea, or bleeding
  • Skin reactions, such as hives, swelling, or eczema
  • Breathing problems, such as upper respiratory congestion, throat swelling, or wheezing

Preparing Meals and Snacks

Your child's food allergies will change your family's eating habits.

"Finding safe options that children are willing to eat can be a challenge," says Marion Groetch, RD, a dietitian at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. "Families have to learn how to prepare safe meals and snacks from whole foods and also how to find allergen-free convenience items."

You'll need to master the art of reading product labels. The FDA requires that the eight major dietary allergens (milk, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish) be noted on product and ingredient labels. But other minor ingredients may not appear on packaging. If you have questions about something your child might eat, you should call the maker before you serve it to them.

"There's always a risk of hidden ingredients," says Bahna. "Labeling is not always complete, nor clear."

Preparing meals and snacks at home gives you more control what's in your child’s food. There are many cookbooks and web sites that have allergy-friendly recipes.

For special events like birthday parties, let the host know about your child's allergies, and make sure your child knows what's off limits.

Dining Out

Let your server know that your child has a food allergy, says Marion Groetch. Don't just ask if a menu item includes your child's allergy trigger. Ask to speak to the manager or chef who will be preparing the food, so you can find out about the ingredients used and the methods of preparation.

"Ask that your food be prepared using clean hands and clean cooking surfaces, utensils, and equipment," says Groetch. "You don't want the hamburger for your child with milk allergies to be prepared on the same grill as another customer's cheeseburger."

Think about where you eat, too, says Groetch. For instance, if your child has a peanut allergy, you might want to avoid restaurants that cook with peanuts or peanut sauces, and if you're allergic to shellfish, you might want to avoid seafood restaurants.

Always have emergency medications on hand. If you think your child is having an anaphylactic reaction, call 911 immediately and use your epinephrine auto-injector (always carry two with you). Even after that injection, your child will still need to go to the hospital.

Reviewed on February 12, 2014

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