My oldest son has a few serious food allergies. They are truly deadly. I have known this since he was about 2 years old. He is severely allergic to all types of nuts, and seafood. He is now 13, and there are some really helpful tips I’ve learned over the years that help us all manage these frightening allergies. I hope they will help you as well.
1. Observe during food introductions.
When he was 3, I remember the first time he ate nuts and fish. On two separate occasions, his face blew-up with swelling, hives covered his body, and he started itching all over. He also started to get sick to his stomach, and threw up.
Children at this age often protest a lot of foods, especially if they are different or happen to be good for them. So…when my toddler at the time told me he didn’t like it, it was nothing new. I proceeded to tell him to take another bite. He said his tongue felt funny. Right there was a red flag in itself, and the symptoms started immediately.
Both of these situations were some of the scariest I have ever experienced. He was scared, my husband and I were terrified, and medical professionals couldn’t answer the phone fast enough.
After the first incident with fish, every time I introduced a new food, it was at home. Watching him closely as he ate it. This helped with being able to respond a lot quicker to symptoms when trying nuts for the first time.
2. Tell the Truth, Early.
This is one subject you should NOT sugar-coat. I’ve heard some parents express they don’t want to scare their children or make them fearful of foods just because they are allergic. This is so dangerous.
We told him very early…he could die if he eats fish and/or nuts. That he will get very very sick, and would not be with us anymore. That is a healthy fear to install. That is the only way your child will not mess-around with their allergy and truly understand the severity. Yes, it’s an uncomfortable conversation, but it’s important they understand the consequences.
We have reinforced this as he gets older. He knows the importance of asking questions and being super cautious, because it could save his life.
3. Ask all the questions & teach them to do the same.
Until he was old enough to fully catch-on, I asked everyone what was in a variety of dishes to make sure I was keeping him safe. Every teacher, every parent, every babysitter knew of his severe food allergies. He saw me model that behavior. I taught him to not only depend on me, but I urged him to speak up for himself. Even at age 5, he would ask a parent, waiter, and teachers what ingredients were in a dish, and if it included any fish or nuts.
My oldest is an introvert, but I encouraged him to be bold and somewhat forceful with this. Having him ask these questions became a normal thing for him to do when out in public or visiting someone’s house. It became part of his routine. Now he does it like second nature.
4. Get tested & know the severity.
After we saw the reaction, our pediatrician could tell us what foods our son was allergic to. However, we didn’t know to what extent and what exact other foods were problems for him. Going to an allergist is your best bet. They can tell you which nuts exactly, or what fish, shellfish, etc. Also, they are able to test your child to see the exact severity.
For example, some people can’t even be around the items, they can have a reaction from it being in the air, in the same oven or just digestion. My son has an issue if he digests the item or if it is heavily in the air (fried, etc). He will only have a deadly reaction if he actually eats the food he’s allergic to. This is very important to know, especially because I love both nuts and fish.
5. Re-test as they grow.
Yes, kids out grow of food allergies all the time. I hope that happens for your child. In our case, our child’s allergies got more severe as he got older. This is why it is important to test again. We waited about 5 years before re-testing to see if the severity had increased or not.
6. Don’t miss a label.
I have learned to read every single label. We have been managing my son’s allergies for years and one of them is nuts. I made some chicken with a pesto sauce a few years back, not thinking anything of it. Shortly after eating dinner, he started to have some serious reactions, and we rushed to urgent care. Come to find out, certain versions of pesto have various nuts in them. After the reaction, I looked at the label, and knew exactly what it was. Make sure that you check ALL your labels, you may be truly surprised.
7. Focus on the good.
Kids can often feel a little overwhelmed by having a food allergy. There is so much emphasis on what they can’t have. Sometimes, they tend to focus on that and get discouraged. This doesn’t mean you should be passive with them about their allergy, they should fully understand the true severity. However, they need us to help them look at the positive side.
I’ve had so many conversations with my son about ALL he can have, and we joke around about allergies that would be so much worse. As he eats ice cream in the summer, I remind him “See, would you rather be allergic to that or to nuts?! It is helpful to remind them to keep things in perspective, count all their blessings, and remember all the good things they can still experience with this limitation.
I hope these tips are helpful. We are still learning, but we are confident he will be able to live a enjoyable, healthy life.
If you are looking for help and more information on severe food allergies, check out this website that I have loved as a resource: https://www.kidswithfoodallergies.org/
Please share in the comments any tips you have as well if you have a personal connection. Thanks!
If you liked this article, check out “For the Mom Overwhelmed by Fear.”