Coping with Kids’ Food Allergies

The best prevention for kids’ food allergies is complete avoidance - and reading the fine print

Credit: Flickr/iandexter

Common kids’ food allergies are milk, eggs, peanuts, soy, wheat and tree nuts

This weekend when we were getting ready to go to a birthday party for a friend’s child, I was reminded of my son Amon’s food allergies

It may seem impossible to forget that your two-year-old kid’s food allergies include dairy, wheat, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, seeds and fish, but after a year of trial and error, we have Amon’s allergies under control. I packed a thermos of soup and a pear to take to the party because I knew there would be nothing he could eat there.

What are Food Allergies?

Food allergies are an immune response that happens when the body treats a food, often a protein, as a problem and tries to fight it using anti-bodies.

Symptoms can range from mild to severe and the amount of allergen needed to trigger a reaction also varies.  

Symptoms of a food allergy can include:

  • hives, rash or itchy skin
  • nausea or stomach pain
  • diarrhea
  • shortness of breath or chest pain
  • anaphylaxis

In children, the most common food allergies are milk, eggs, peanuts, soy, wheat and tree nuts.  For adults, the most common food allergies are peanuts, tree nuts, fin fish and shellfish.   

Food Allergies, Eczema and Atopic Dermatitis

From two-months old, Amon had terrible eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis: red and inflamed skin that when scratched would break open.

Our pediatrician calls eczema “the itch that rashes.” Treatment is often topical corticosteroid but prolonged use can cause thinning of the skin.   

According to Samuel Grubman, a New York City-based, board certified allergist known online as Doctor Allergy, about 37% of children with eczema have at least one food allergy. If you look at the statistics in reverse, about 90% of children with food allergy have eczema.   

Discovering and Diagnosing Kids’ Food Allergies

Initially, we did an Elimination/Rechallenge Diagnosis Diet to figure out what Amon could eat. The diet eliminates common foods that cause allergic responses.  

This is no cakewalk but is well worth it in the end. After six weeks, we went to see an allergist who did a simple pinprick test which confirmed what we had already discovered. Our kid is allergic to everything.

The Key to Living with Food Allergies is Avoidance

In order to avoid severe allergic reactions, we have removed all allergens from our kitchen. This has involved some serious reading of the fine print.  

For example, a bottle of tamari says WHEAT FREE in big letters on the front but in small print on the back, it says “may contain traces of wheat.”

“May contain traces of” and “Processed in a plant where”  have become key words in our lives. In the wise words of singer Tom Waits “the small print giveth and the large print taketh away.”

Until recently, avoidance has also meant staying away from parties, potlucks and even preschool. But now that Amon is two, he knows that he doesn’t want to eat anything that makes him itchy. Our world has gotten a bit bigger as a result.  

Read more about kids’ food allergies.

Teresa Goff is a freelance writer and broadcaster. As the mother of one very allergic boy and one very energetic boy, she has learned how to make food out of nothing at all while playing lego and doing two art projects at once.