What do you do when your child's best friend is coming over but can't eat wheat or eggs or dairy (or any number of other common ingredients)? What can you bake for an after-school snack? Here's help for the food intolerant.
Food allergy is a very real thing for around one in every 20 children. And it's on the increase for reasons researchers don't fully understand.
Short-lived or permanent?
Some childhood food allergies are mild and disappear with time. For example, allergy to egg is most severe in toddlers but around 80 per cent of them ‘grow out' of it by the time they start school.
Unfortunately allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, seeds and seafood tend to remain for life and can cause a severe life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis, where the mouth, lips and throat swell causing difficulty in breathing and at times fatal collapse.
Once diagnosed, parents must be vigilant about all food their child eats and carry an Epipen of emergency adrenalin to administer in case of accidental ingestion. Visiting friends or having a birthday party can be huge and scary time for parents.
Tips for a normal life
As a parent of a child with a food allergy - especially one such as peanut which can trigger life-threatening anaphylaxis - leading a normal life can seem impossible. Below are 10 tips on how to keep food allergy from overwhelming your family life from Anaphylaxis Australia.
1. Plan ahead
2. Always read all food labels
3. Understand different ingredient names
4. Educate those around you
5. Take safe food with you where ever you go unless you know safe food is available
6. Keep up to date with product changes and the latest research
7. Always allow plenty of time to do the grocery shopping
8. Don't hesitate to ask questions
9. Have an ‘emergency drill' from time to time checking expiry dates on your EpiPen
10. Become an AAI member
For more practical tips, visit the website of Anaphylaxis Australia which is very comprehensive and well worth a visit.
Where to go for help
Never diagnose an allergy yourself. Always have your child assessed by a professional, either an accredited practicing dietitian, paediatrician or immunologist.
Do NOT keep young children on a restrictive elimination diet for long periods. It is not balanced and can play havoc with their growth and development. For example:
- if you take your child off dairy products, you remove the single largest source of calcium needed to build bones and strong teeth.
- if you remove salicylates from their diet, you remove most of the fruit and vegetables which are the largest source of vitamin C in the diet.
If a special diet is really needed, it should be prescribed and monitored by an expert. An elimination diet is a TEST for reactions to many food components and is usually only needed for 3 to 4 weeks.
To find a dietitian:
Go to the website of the Dietitians Association at www.daa.asn.au or call 1800 812 942
To find an immunologist or for access to fact sheets on allergy:
Try the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology at www.allergy.org.au
To find diet information on allergies:
The website of the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Allergy Unit (Sydney) is excellent or call 02 9515 3300 for an appointment.