Food allergies absolutely affects everyday life, but does not have to rule it! My name is Lindsey Ross, and I am a professional career nanny. I have been caring for children for 15 years, with eight years as a nanny. I have cared for children as young as two months and as old as 15 years, and have also cared for children with special needs. I have worked with food allergic children and can share what I have learned.
John Hopkins medicine defines food allergies in this way:
“A food allergy is an abnormal response of the body to a certain food. It is important to know that this is different than a food intolerance, which does not affect the immune system, although some of the same symptoms may be present.”
When a child is diagnosed with a food allergy, a parent may feel alienated, and worry about how they will protect their child. Parents want to do the best for their children- along with this is hiring a knowledgeable nanny. Nannies, do not fear taking positions with children who have allergies. There are ways to be prepared, learn about the allergy, and learn how to protect a potential charge.
Each child presents symptoms of an allergy differently.
The most common symptoms include:
- Swelling of the face
- Difficulty breathing.
If your child or charge presents with these symptoms, call 911 or go to the Emergency Room immediately.
There is no medication to prevent an allergic reaction. However there is Epinephrine, the rescue medication for allergic reactions. Epi-pens are prescribed by a doctor once your child or charge is diagnosed, and it is recommended for anyone caring for the child to practice using the Epi-pen provided. Development of food allergies cannot be prevented, however they can be delayed by breastfeeding your infant for the first six months, not giving your child solids until six months, and avoiding common allergens (cow’s milk, wheat, eggs, peanuts, and fish) for the first year of your child’s life.
Management of child food allergies is mostly avoidance, although occasionally a child will grow out of a food allergy. Many families choose to make their kitchen allergen free, completely emptying their kitchen of anything that the child may react to. Dining out with a food allergic child does not have to be impossible, either!
Tips for Dining Out
- Knowing the restaurant menu ahead of time.
- Let your server know about the child’s allergy.
- Avoid buffet-style restaurants.
- Avoid fried foods, as they may use the same oil for multiple foods.
- Use allergy cards. They remind the manager and anybody cooking that all utensils and equipment used to prepare the food should be clean, and that they should change gloves.
Socialization and Educating the Child
The other area affected us is socialization, which is definitely made difficult when children have allergies. The biggest thing you can do for your affected child is teach them about their allergy, using terms they can understand. With young children, teaching them what foods are “unsafe” and what those foods look like is very helpful. At the grocery store, in books and magazines, and online, showing them what foods are not safe for them will help teach them about their allergy. Explaining that they can get sick eating their allergen, and to only take food from trusted adults (parents, grandparents, and caregivers) is very important. Your child should also learn to find their trusted adult when they begin to feel sick, and be familiar with what happens when they have a reaction (namely taking their medicine and going to the doctor). I use the practice Epi-pen frequently with my charge, and explain what will happen if she has a reaction.
Discussing your child’s allergy in a positive tone will help them have healthy feelings about their allergy and help them to not be unnecessarily scared. Involve your child in managing his or her allergy by teaching him or her to read ingredients and having them help make sure their medicine is with them when they leave the house. Another handy tip is to make friends, or join a support group, with other children who have food allergies. This helps your child feel less alone about their allergy. I personally like using stickers or alert bracelets when I’m in public with a food allergic child, as it informs other parents and caregivers that he or she has an allergy, eliminating miscommunication around food. Visit the Food Allergy Research and Education website for more tips about dealing with your child’s allergy.
Below, there are links related not only to children already diagnosed with allergies, but also for children who have not been introduced to allergens yet. If your child has not yet been introduced to allergens, talk to your pediatrician about what they recommend relating to your child’s risk factor.
This link is the AAP new guidelines for infant food allergy prevention, mostly based around peanut allergy and the Learning Early about Peanut Allergy program:
This link concerns already diagnosed children, and talking to them about their allergy:
This is the Hopkins link regarding food allergies in children as mentioned previously:
In closing, caring for a child with a significant food allergy is not that difficult. There is a learning process that is entirely manageable, including the ability to properly read labels and usage of rescue medications. The right nanny will also be able to manage your child’s allergy and ensure a safe environment. There are also steps new parents can take to prevent food allergies in their children. Having a child with a food allergy does not have to be the end of the world. Good luck!