If you've ever had to deal with severe food allergies, you know how scary they can be. Food allergies in children are becoming more and more prevalent, and for parents of kids with food allergies, it's important to know how to react should emergencies arrive.
For years, doctors have debated whether allergies are growing more prevalent or whether they are just more diagnosed, though it seems as though the former may be the case. One study seems to show that the rising instances of food allergies may be caused by antibiotics; others point fingers at genetically modified foods or household chemicals. But whatever the source, it's likely that as a parent, you'll come face-to-face with an allergy, either with your own child or with a friend. And when it comes to an emergency allergy, it's important to be reactive.
1. Avoid Allergens
This may seem like an obvious one, but Dr. Buck Parker, a trauma surgeon and one of the stars of NBC’s reality TV show “The Island,” says that the main key to preventing dangerous allergic reactions is to avoid allergens.
“Avoidance of the allergen is key and most parents will do everything in their power to protect their child from that particular substance," says Dr. Parker. The problem is that many parents don't know what to do to avoid the allergen; in particular, they don't know how to avoid two key problems.
The first is that new food allergies can develop at any time; a food that was once safe to eat can cause a severe allergic reaction at a later date. Just as children can outgrow allergies as they get older, so can children, and even adults, acquire new allergies, particularly at puberty and in their 20s and 30s.
The second problem is that cross-contamination is always a factor. Even when you are vigilant, it's important to bear in mind that any sort of contact with an allergen can cause reactions for someone who is severely allergic, even if it just stems from countertops or dishes not being adequately sanitized after preparation of the ingredient.
This is why it's important not only to be vigilant yourself but to educate your child and make sure that he or she knows when and what is safe to eat. If you send your child out with a special snack, be sure your child knows why his snack is different from others, so he won't be tempted to try something that may be fatal.
2. Know the Symptoms
Allergy symptoms can vary, from hives to abdominal symptoms to breathing symptoms. The scariest part is that symptoms can even vary in one sufferer: a child that has had a reaction including tongue swelling and wheezing in the past may present with diarrhea and vomiting at a different time.
Anaphylaxis symptoms can occur suddenly and quickly progress to fatal problems. According to the Mayo Clinic, if your child complains of the following, he or she may be suffering from anaphylaxis:
- Skin reactions, including hives along with itching, and flushed or pale skin (almost always present with anaphylaxis)
- A feeling of warmth
- The sensation of a lump in your throat
- Constriction of the airways and a swollen tongue or throat, which can cause wheezing and trouble breathing
- A weak and rapid pulse
- Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
- Dizziness or fainting
Being able to recognize these symptoms in your child is key to making sure he or she gets treated in time.
3. Keep Remedies On-Hand
If your child has a history of anaphylaxis or severe food allergies, you likely already have an EpiPen or EpiPen Jr. on-hand: don't be afraid to use it. "Give epinephrine at the first sign of a severe allergic reaction," says Dr. Parker. You can also administer antihistamines, like Benadryl. Liquid or meltaway strips are the easiest to administer to children; just be sure that you let your doctor know what you have administered as soon as you get to the emergency room.
Because that's the other thing: administration of epinephrine only staves off some of the symptoms of the allergic reaction and gives you time to reach the hospital. It is not a cure for the reaction, and your child should still be monitored and will likely be given antihistamines or steroids at the hospital.
4. Keep Friends and Family Educated about Kids with Food Allergies
With allergies on the rise and the unfortunate trend of people lying about having food allergies, many people who are uneducated or uninformed about food allergies still think they know best. This is why it's important to educate friends, family, and anyone who comes into contact with your child on a regular basis about his or her food allergy and the seriousness of the problem.
"Anaphylaxis can happen anywhere at any time and it can be deadly if not treated quickly and properly," says Dr. Parker. "Parents must educate themselves, their children, their friends, their family, schools, camps, babysitters, etc. about the severity of food allergies and how to avoid life-threatening allergic reactions."
Allow your child to participate in educating his own friends, if he wants to, to give him a sense of responsibility about his allergy and make sure that everyone is aware of the seriousness of the problem and its potential side effects.
5. Beware the Second Reaction
As though anaphylaxis wasn't scary enough on its own, a second-phase reaction can occur within eight hours after the original reaction. This is one of the main reasons why it is vital to transfer your child to an emergency room immediately and to always administer any antihistaminic drugs that a doctor may prescribe.
Your doctor will let you know how often to administer any additional medication once you return from the hospital, but if you think you notice systems coming back or worsening, do not hesitate to return to the hospital.
Being prepared is the best way to stave off dangerous and scary reactions. By staying informed and keeping up-to-date medications on-hand, you may be able to avoid dealing with the reaction itself altogether.
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