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Experts Corner

Children's Health

Food Allergy Facts and Fiction
By Tara Kompare, Pharm.D.

The time for Holiday feasts has passed once again. Juicy turkeys stuffed with care and Grandma’s homemade pumpkin pie undoubtedly had your name written all over them. Then there is always the mystery dish that no one wants to take credit for. And, most alarmingly, no one knows what is in it.

For most of us, it’s okay if we happen to dive into a dessert that just happens to be laced with peanuts. But, for those unfortunate few with food allergies, these surprises can bring more than bad taste—they can cause a full-blown emergency.

In order to help you better understand food allergies, and how they relate to children, I thought it would be best to separate the facts from fiction:

Fiction: If your child is allergic to a certain food, you will know right away.
Fact: Our bodies do not produce an allergic response to a substance until we have encountered that same substance before. So, your child could have eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich every day for the last three years and then, all of a sudden, break out in a full blown rash from one little peanut found in his trail mix. This is why food allergies, and allergies in general, are so hard to diagnose. The most common symptoms of a food allergy include:
    -Rash
    -Wheezing
    -Cough
    -Hoarseness and tightness in throat
    -Nausea
    -Stomach cramps
    -Vomiting
    -Diarrhea

* If your child ever experiences any of the above symptoms or any warmth, flushing and/or throat tingling, you need to call his or her doctor right away. Although it is rare, anaphylactic-type reactions leading to dangerous drops in blood pressure can occur and require immediate medical attention.

Fiction: Children will eventually outgrow their food allergies.
Fact: Although many kids will outgrow their allergies to foods, some may not. Those whom are allergic to tree nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, etc.) have only a 9% chance of outgrowing their allergy while those allergic to peanuts have a higher chance at 20%. The good news is that approximately 85% of children allergic to cow’s milk, soy, wheat, and egg will outgrow their allergy by the time they are five.

Fiction: Food allergies only occur in children whose parents have food allergies.
Fact: Just because you and your spouse do not suffer from food allergies does not mean your child will be spared. Although there is a strong hereditary link associated with the development of allergies, there is still a 10 to 15% chance that a child can develop a food allergy despite a negative family history.

Fiction: There are tests that predict what exactly your child is allergic to.
Fact: While there are a variety of tests available, none are 100% accurate. The blood allergen test, known as RAST, often results in false positive reactions. This means that the test may say your child is allergic to a certain food or substance when, in fact, they are not. Evaluating a child for food allergies can be a complicated process and usually involves a combination of blood tests, skin tests, and keeping a food diary.

If you have a child that suffers from food allergies, family feasts can turn your stomach in knots. This is because it becomes your responsibility to rake everyone through the coals about the ingredients used to prepare each dish. But don’t be shy. Speak up and, if they are the loving relatives they should be, they will totally understand.

*P.S.S. (Parent Sanity Saver): If you have a child who suffers from severe allergic reactions, it may be best if you host the holiday dinners at your house. This way you can be in charge of what's for dinner.

About the Author:
Tara Kompare, Pharm.D. is a doctor of pharmacy and mother of two amazing little girls. You can contact her directly at drk @ themedicinemom.com or visit her website at www.themedicinemom.com. She encourages reader feedback and questions.

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