Food Allergies & What They Mean to Your Non-Allergic Child

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Kids eating and sharing lunch at school.By the time a child with a food allergy or food intolerance enters college, they will be experts at managing their food intake. They will know how to explain and educate people handling their food and learn how to handle an allergy emergency. This takes practice and starts in early childhood when the child first enters school or early care and education programs.

If you have a school-aged child facing food allergies and intolerances, you have already become a master at providing your child with safe food. Sending your child to school can feel stressful as you worry that your child will stay safe and that the school is prepared to handle their allergy. Parents who do not have a child struggling with food allergies may or may not understand the severe implications of food allergies and food intolerances. Regardless, we all need to work together to keep our children safe.

Thankfully, schools now address the importance of handling food allergies appropriately. Food allergies affect an estimated 4-6% of children in the United States, and many more children experience food intolerances. Plans are now being developed in schools, and early care and education programs are being developed to prevent allergic reactions. The staff is also being prepared to respond to a food allergy emergency. Schools need the help of every parent and child to follow the rules related to food allergies to keep school safe for all kids.

Education is the first line of defense!

Staff, food service workers, parents, and children must be educated on food allergies to create and maintain a healthy and safe educational environment. Most preschools and schools are now nut-free institution “and provide” “allergy-safe” tables in their cafeterias; some students with more severe allergies have individualized plans. Each school offers different guidelines, and we must follow their regulations for handling food allergies. Each parent must take the responsibility of sending in appropriate food items required by the school.

What is a Food Allergy?

According “to the CDC, “A food allergy occurs when the body has a specific and reproducible immune response. The body’s immune response can be severe and life-threatening, such as anaphylaxis. Although the immune system normally protects people from germs, in people with food allergies, the immune system mistakenly responds to food as if it were harmful. Not all allergic reactions will develop anaphylaxis.”

Eight foods or food groups account for 90% of serious allergic reactions in the United States. These include milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, wheat, soy, peanuts and tree nuts.

Symptoms of Food Allergy (as described by children):

  • It feels like something is poking my tongue.
  • My tongue (or mouth) is tingling (or burning).
  • My tongue (or mouth) itches.
  • My tongue feels like there is hair on it.
  • My mouth feels funny.
  • There’s a frog in my throat; there’s something stuck in my throat.
  • My tongue feels full (or heavy).
  • My lips feel tight.
  • It feels like there are bugs in there (to describe itchy ears).
  • It (my throat) feels thick.
  • It feels like a bump on the back of my tongue (throat).

The symptoms and severity of allergic food reactions to food can evolve for one person over time and can be different from individual to individual.

Studies show that 16%–18% of children with food allergies have reacted to accidentally eating food allergens while at school. In addition, 25% of the severe and potentially life-threatening reactions (anaphylaxis) reported at schools happened in children with no previous diagnosis of food allergy. Staff should be ready to address the needs of children with known food allergies, AND they need to be prepared to respond effectively to the emergency needs of children who are not known to have food allergies but who exhibit allergic signs and symptoms.

What is a Food Intolerance & Sensitivities?

A food intolerance can look similar to a food allergy, as there are sometimes the same signs and symptoms, like physical reactions to certain foods. They are generally less serious and often limited to only digestive problems. With a food intolerance, you may be able to eat small amounts of the offending food without trouble. Food intolerances and sensitivities are not life-threatening.

What can we do?

If your child has a food allergy, you must inform the school and create an accommodations plan. If your child suffers from food intolerance or sensitivity, you should also make the school aware.

Teach your children age-appropriate facts about food allergies. They must understand the importance of hand-washing, not sharing food, allergen-safe zones, and personal conduct. They must be aware of the importance of accepting people with food allergies.

As parents, we need to understand the importance of reading labels on all food and snacks sent to school to ensure they meet regulations. We must work together to keep our children safe!

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