When we had close friends over for dinner recently, I was trying to make sure to be a good hostess and have snacks on hand. Upon the arrival of my guests, I innocently held out a bowl of peanuts to my friend's seven-year-old daughter and said, "Do you want some?"
Luckily, her dad quickly jumped in and said, "She can't. She is allergic."
I felt awful. How did I not remember that and what would have happened if she had eaten some? Researchers think about 6 million children in the U.S. have food allergies, and most of them are young children. That means that one in every 13 kids in the U.S. has a food allergy! In addition, 38.7 percent of food-allergic children have a history of severe reactions.
"Typically a child will eat a food, for example peanut butter, and within a few minutes, even if it's just a small ingestion, he may develop hives or swelling,” explained Laura Dziadzio, M.D., Carilion Children’s pediatric pulmonology and allergy expert. “There may be coughing, wheezing, nausea and/or vomiting. If it's a more significant reaction, there may be swelling of the larynx and low blood pressure.”
Dr. Dziadzio tells parents of children with food allergies to read food labels carefully and always have an injectable epinephrine close by in the event of a reaction. She also coaches parents to start food safety lessons early.
"Kids can be their best advocate,” Dr. Dziadzio. “Even preschoolers can be taught not to take any food unless it's confirmed to be safe."
While nearly any food can cause an allergic reaction, the following are eight foods that cause the majority of reactions:
2. Tree nuts
Unless there is a family history, the child has a known food allergy or has eczema, Dr. Dziadzio suggested adding peanut and egg to the diet of most kids since recent studies have shown that early introduction may help prevent the development of allergies to those foods. And for those that were hoping their child will grow out of it, that is not usually the case.
"Nut and seafood allergies tend not to be outgrown, but this isn't always hard and fast,” Dr. Dziadzio explained. “Some kids will outgrow these allergies and we follow them to determine if we can do a challenge in clinic as a final test."
However, it is not all bad news for children who suffer from food allergies. There are some exciting new therapies on the horizon.
“Oral desensitization, which involves giving a very tiny amount of food and increasing it over time in hopes of being able to tolerate that food, is being actively studied, and there are other potential therapies in the pipeline such as the peanut patch, so there is definitely hope for kids and parents,” said Dr. Dziadzio.
I learned my lesson. It is best to always ask, "Do you have any food allergies?"