He looked ready. The first day of school was about to begin and my little guy Liam couldn’t wait to head off to kindergarten. He had learned to share his toys, followed directions, showed respect for others and had a good grasp of his numbers, the alphabet and the key “kinder” prerequisites. But could he say “no thank you” when snack time rolled around?
Since our family first learned of our son’s food allergies – breaking out in red blotchy hives when he was a toddler – we have avoided the known causes of his reactions: peanuts, tree nuts and eggs. My husband, Greg, and I reinforced with Liam the reasons why he couldn’t eat certain foods and tried to educate him. We consulted with our family physician and allergist, joined the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), and read everything we could find about food allergies.
We learned that the best way to manage an allergy was to avoid the foods that caused a reaction in our son.
Now one of the “big kids,” Liam knows not to share food with others. He trusts people in authority and he asks before he eats. He replies “no thanks” to offers of uncertain cookies and crackers, and as he prepares to enter third grade this fall, he remains alert about his food allergies but fully participates in the fun and learning that goes with being an eight-year-old.
To delay or not delay?
“Statistically, peanut allergies have almost doubled in the last five to seven years,” says John Scinto, MD, of Hudson Valley Asthma & Allergy Associates. “We tend to try not to give children peanuts until they’re three or four. If their sibling or a family member has an allergy, we prolong it.”
Hudson Valley Allergy & Asthma Associates identifies the most common food allergies in children to peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, corn, soy, egg whites, fish, shellfish and milk. Though no localized studies have been done on food allergies, 12 million Americans have been diagnosed with food allergies. Of those 12 million, 3 million are children under 18 years of age.
The American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) notes that not eating the foods a child is sensitive to is the only proven therapy for food allergies. Trying to answer the question of why food allergies are on the rise is being researched at medical centers across the U.S. Dr. Scinto encourages parents to educate themselves and to partner with schools and caregivers to foster a safe and healthy environment for a child with known food allergies.
“We educate the parents and we educate the children,” says Dr. Scinto. “Even kindergarteners need to know about their allergies.”
Mary Ann Ebner is a freelance writer. She and he family live in Orange County.