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Easy Steps to Your Child's Nutrition

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Children With Special Dietary Needs

Get the facts about your kids’ food allergies and intolerances.

Food Allergies: A Safe and Healthy Diet continued...

Make the allergy part of who they are, and help them avoid it appropriately, but don't overly dramatize what kind of symptoms they might have. It's not any different than teaching them not to stick their hand in the oven, and other things that can be harmful for them.

FAAN also has a great section for kids at http://www.fankids.org/. There, they can learn about the basics of food allergies, try recipe "projects" with replacements for the foods they're allergic to, and hear from other children with food allergies. This helps give them the tools to eat safely even when you're not right there with them.

Q. Does a milk allergy mean my child is lactose intolerant?

A. No. Childhood milk allergies are very different from lactose intolerance. Many kids outgrow their early milk allergies by school age. In the meantime, treatment can be the elimination of milk-containing proteins from the diet -- like milk, cheese, and ice cream. Depending on the child, to get the needed proteins, a substitute such as soy formula or a hypoallergenic formula like Alimentum can be used.

Q. What do I do if my child accidentally eats a food he's allergic to?

A. In some very severe cases, parents and children carry what's called an Epi-Pen, an automatic injector of adrenaline that can immediately treat anaphylactic shock in response to exposure to a food the child is allergic to. But this is only necessary in those children who've had previous severe allergic reactions, those with significant asthma, and those who are allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish. Those allergies are the ones that most commonly cause severe reactions. If your child has a milk allergy and has never had a really severe reaction, and doesn't have asthma, you don't need an Epi-Pen. For that particular child, your doctor might simply prescribe antihistamines.

Food Allergies: Pregnancy and Family

Q. Should I avoid highly allergenic foods like peanuts or shellfish when I'm pregnant or nursing?

A. Many people will say to avoid these foods while nursing and as part of the child's diet during the first three years, but the evidence for that is less than what we'd like. I don't know the right answer.

Q. What about my next child? What are the chances they'll have special dietary needs?

A. If no immediate family member -- a parent or sibling -- has allergic disease, the risk of a child's developing any allergy is about 20%. If one family member has allergic disease, the risk is about 40%, and if two members are, there's about a 60% risk. Allergic disease is inherited as allergic disease, not just as food allergies. For example, if you have a milk allergy, your child might have asthma, and vice versa.

We do know that breastfeeding for more than four to six months, and avoidance of solids for at least the first four to six months, is best for avoiding allergies in children who are at increased risk because of allergies in their family. (If your child is not high-risk for allergies, breastfeeding still has clear benefits, but there are no known benefits specifically in preventing allergies.)

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Reviewed on January 31, 2008
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