My family recently moved into a new neighborhood. We’ve loved meeting new neighbors and watching our kids make new friends.
However, the topic of my kids’ severe food allergies came up much faster than I was expecting.
We were out in our driveway, playing with some sidewalk chalk, when our neighbor’s daughter saw us. She is not much older than my son and was so excited to see us! She immediately went running and came back with what seemed like every kid on the block. So cute!
We quickly learned names and houses and started to play.
Two of the kids, same age as my kids (2 & 4) safe everyone and came outside. They walked over with their mom. Of course, my 6th allergy mom sense kicked in immediately. I could clearly see that they were eating food as they crossed over onto our driveway.
I quickly asked the mom, “Hey, could I ask what the food is?”
She responded very kindly and actually asked if there was a food allergy.
My eyes went to the bag and I realized it was full of trail mix. At least 3 different kinds of nuts.
I quickly explained that yes, my son had severe allergies to all nuts. She realized the issue as well and quickly took her kids home to wash hands. I was so grateful!
Because of that, the other moms began to ask a lot of questions. It was a great opportunity to explain, but I also found myself wistfully wishing I was more prepared. I felt like my answers were long-winded. There is just so much to explain.
I wanted a more concise and faster way to explain how food allergies impact our family.
Have you ever felt like you’ve tried to explain, but didn’t do an adequate job?
One of the things I did not anticipate being challenging about managing food allergies was explaining them to other people. Given how many people in the US have food allergies, I’m often surprised at the amount of misinformation out there.
Subsequently, the stuff I hear can feel a bit shocking sometimes. If you’re curious, check out our post “10 Comments that Broke My Mom Heart.”
Then I remember how very little I knew about food allergies prior to my son’s diagnosis and it all makes sense.
Here is a quick guide to give you some practical ways to talk about your child’s food allergies and answers to common questions.
Here are some quick facts about food allergies.
According to kidswithfoodallergies.org:
- 32 million Americans have food allergies, including 5.6 million kids. This is A LOT of kids.
- 5.6 million kids is about 1 in 13 kids or 2 per classroom.
- According to the CDC, The most common food allergens are what’s known as the Top 8, which include: Peanut, Tree Nut, Dairy, Egg, Soy, Wheat, Fish, Shellfish.
- Sesame allergy is increasing and will actually be included in the Top 8, making it the new Top 9 in the USA beginning January of 2023.
Medically, Here’s What’s Happening
Many of you have asked, “How can I explain food allergies without just saying that it is life-threatening?”
Here is a quick overview of medically what is happening with a food allergy.
It’s also what I’m starting to use to explain my son’s allergies medically.
I am specifically referring to IgE mediated food allergies in this explanation.
If your child is experiencing non-IgE mediated food allergies, EoE, or FPIES, this article from Kids With Food Allergies has excellent descriptions!
Here’s what I say:
I didn’t know any of this at first, but a food allergy is actually when the immune system is reacting to a food. You know when you’re sick and you’re body makes antibodies? It’s the same with a food allergy. Your body makes what’s called IgE antibodies, which tell the body to produce symptoms. That’s what you see with the hives, sneezing, or redness.
Unfortunately, these antibodies can also produce life-threatening symptoms, which is when you see things like trouble breathing, significant swelling, and blood pressure issues. That is anaphylaxis.
“How Severe is the Food Allergy?”
This might be the most common question I get.
Here’s what I’m learning to say:
My son’s allergies are life-threatening and we carry epinephrine. Actually, all food allergies have the potential to be life-threatening.
That’s what makes this really scary; they are unpredictable. You could have a reaction many times that’s just hives, and then the next time it’s full anaphylaxis.
It is really important for people to understand that all food allergies can be dangerous and do not depend on “how allergic” someone might be.
“Oh, I Totally Understand Food Allergies, I have an Intolerance to Dairy (or whatever food).”
Here’s my response:
Oh wow! I didn’t know that. So you definitely get the need to be attentive to the food that you’re eating. I’ve learned that the food allergies are actually different than intolerances.
So there is lactose intolerance, like what I think you’re saying, and that is when someone cannot breakdown the lactose sugar found in dairy.
And then there is a dairy allergy where the body is having an immune response to the proteins. Unfortunately, that incorrect reaction from the immune system has the potential for anaphylaxis, which is life-threatening. That’s what makes it different from intolerances .
“What Causes Food Allergies?”
The response I’ve been using:
There is currently no known cause for food allergies. And the number of kids with food allergies is increasing.
In addition to this, I want to say that the mom guilt is very real. Katie and I have spent a lot of time wondering what we did to cause our children’s food allergies. We really thought it was our fault.
Hence, I want you to know confidently that this is not your fault.
We write more on this in our post, “The Food Allergy is Not Your Fault, Momma.”
“Will Your Child Grow Out of It?”
What I have been saying in response:
Different allergies have different statistical likelihoods of outgrowing it naturally. For example, our allergist told us my son’s likelihood of outgrowing his dairy allergy was 80%, and he did outgrow this allergy.
Unlike some others, the nut allergies are harder to outgrow. We were told he only had a 20% chance of outgrowing these allergies.
Currently, there is not cure, but we are hopeful about a few potential treatment options.
Here are the current statistics on outgrowing the Top 8 allergens:
- Peanut – 20-25%
- Dairy – 80%
- Wheat – 80%
- Egg – 80%
- Tree Nut, Fish, and Shellfish are the most likely to be lifelong allergies.
This is the link to the above statistics on peanut, dairy, egg, tree nut, fish, shellfish, and wheat.
- Soy – 70%. Here is the link to the article on this.
These are statistics on pediatric patients. Different kids have different medical profiles, and these are just general statistics. I definitely encourage you to consult your allergist about your child’s specific situation.
“This Label Says No Peanuts, Why Can’t He Eat It?”
Of course, most people really DO mean well when they ask this and genuinely want to know. Conversely, it’s the ones that ask this question to try to convince us that it is safe for our kids and pressure us to let them eat it that can end up feeling frustrating.
Here is our response:
Unfortunately, he is sensitive enough that it really depends on where it’s being produced and what else is in that factory. For example, if they are running a peanut product, then cleaning the machines, then running this product, it might still contain residue that could trigger an allergic reaction.
What I just described is called food cross-contact. However, not all kids are sensitive to this. My son, as well as Katie’s daughter, are both highly sensitive to cross-contact.
I definitely encourage you to ask your allergist if this is a concern for your child.
For more info on cross-contact, check out our blog post, “What in the World is Food Cross-Contact?”
If you are wondering about food labels in the US, our post on food labels offers a break down of what companies are required to tell you, and what is just voluntary. “Food Labels and Food Allergies.”
“What Can They Eat?”
Here’s my response:
Lots of things! It does make it more challenging to eat at restaurants. We buy more fresh food, cook a lot more at home, and buy less processed foods. Honestly, it’s been a bit healthier for us!
Obviously, that’s actually a huge focus for us in our family. We want our kids to know that even though there are foods they cannot eat, there are SO many more foods that they can eat!
“What Can We Do to Help?”
This question makes me tear up. My new neighbor texted me that she really wanted to know what they can do to help us feel safe around them. When you find these people, invest in those relationships!
Here’s my response:
It seriously means so much that you would ask this!
Washing hands before we play is hugely helpful for us. We ask that you don’t bring food into the house or actively have the kids eating snacks with his allergens while they re playing together. To make it easier, I’m completely happy to provide snacks!
We also want you to know that we have taught him not to accept food from anyone unless his dad or I have said it’s ok, so we ask you not to offer him food.
These are the biggest things! Furthermore, when we host people, we have 3 simple rules for when people come over to our house. We ask that everyone takes their shoes off, wash hands, and that no one brings food into the house.
“Don’t You Think You’re Being Over Protective? Aren’t You Overreacting?
I have heard from so many moms who have gotten some variant of this question. I want to extend grace, because for the most part, people who are not living the daily food allergy life truly do not understand.
That was me before my son was diagnosed. I did not understand.
That said, there is an element of judgment with this question. Based on your relationship with the person asking you, proceed how you are most comfortable.
Here is an example of what I’m saying to people in response:
I definitely think it’s important to encourage independence. My job as his mom is to help him do that with age appropriate tasks.
Unfortunately, this situation is life-threatening. I wish so much that it wasn’t. And managing a life-threatening medical condition is not an age appropriate task for him while he is 4.
I also wanted to share with you a post from @livingallergic that has really stuck with me on this topic.
“I am not a helicopter parent. I am a parent who sets and enforces age appropriate boundaries for my child. I allow my child to make age appropriate decisions with age appropriate consequences.
These boundaries look different, because everyday foods that are safe for most children are a matter of life and death for mine. Decisions that have life and death consequences are not age appropriate for a small child. Decisions that have medical consequences are not age appropriate for a small child.”@livingallergic
This. Everything that she just said. She absolutely nailed it.
Katie and I want to encourage you that you are not being over protective. You do NOT need to defend your decisions regarding your child’s safety to anyone.
When you get this question, you can offer as much, or as little, as you are comfortable with because at its core, even if well-intentioned, it is a judgmental and inappropriate question.
This is intended as a quick guide.
I wrote this post to give you sample responses that you could offer quickly in a conversation when you’re asked. That said, I know that food allergies are far more vast and complicated than this.
My intention is to give you a starting point that you could use to adjust to your own unique circumstances with your child.
I hope it’s helpful!
As always, Katie and I are in your corner and cheering you on.
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