Food Allergy in Children: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

In a food allergy, the immune system overreacts to certain foods. Normally, the immune system helps keep your child healthy by defending against harmful germs. But in a food allergy, the immune system thinks something in certain foods is harmful. So it fights back with an allergic reaction.

The best way to treat your child's food allergy is to avoid the foods that cause it. And make sure that you know what to do if your child accidentally eats a food that he or she is allergic to.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Avoid the foods that cause problems.
  • Avoid other foods in the same family as the ones your child is allergic to, especially tree nuts and seafood. For example, if your child is allergic to walnuts, he or she might also react to pecans, pistachios, or cashews.
  • Read food labels carefully. Learn the other names for foods that your child is allergic to, such as "caseinate" for milk or "albumin" for eggs.
  • Have your child take medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse call line if you think your child is having a problem with his or her medicine.
  • Use an over-the-counter antihistamine, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or loratadine (Claritin), to treat mild symptoms. Read and follow all instructions on the label. Mild symptoms include sneezing or an itchy or runny nose; an itchy mouth; a few hives or mild itching; and mild nausea or stomach discomfort.
  • Your doctor may prescribe a shot of epinephrine for you or your child to carry in case your child has a severe reaction. Learn how to give your child the shot. Older, mature children should be taught to give themselves the shot. Make sure it is with your child at all times. Make sure it has not expired.
  • Have your child wear medical alert jewellery that lists his or her allergies.

Tips for eating out

  • Talk to your child's teachers and caregivers. Teach them what to do if your child eats a food that he or she is allergic to. Keep an epinephrine shot at your child's school or daycare in case your child has a reaction.
  • When you eat out, tell waiters about your child's allergies. Ask them about ingredients. If they are not sure, ask to speak to kitchen staff.
  • Bring safe substitutes from home. For example, if your child is allergic to cow's milk, bring soy beverage.
  • Be aware of something called cross-contamination. For example, a food server may scoop out some ice cream with nuts. Make sure the same scoop is not used for your child's ice cream without nuts.
  • If you and your child travel to another country, learn the words for the foods your child is allergic to. Then you will be able to ask about them in restaurants and read food labels. Call airlines, tour operators, and restaurants before you go. Explain your child's allergies, and ask for safe meals. And discuss your travel plans with your doctor.

When should you call for help?

Give an epinephrine shot if:

  • You think your child is having a severe allergic reaction.
  • Your child has symptoms in more than one body area, such as mild nausea and an itchy mouth.

After giving an epinephrine shot call 911, even if your child feels better.

Call 911 if:

  • Your child has symptoms of a severe allergic reaction. These may include:
    • Sudden raised, red areas (hives) all over his or her body.
    • Swelling of the throat, mouth, lips, or tongue.
    • Trouble breathing.
    • Passing out (losing consciousness). Or your child may feel very light-headed or suddenly feel weak, confused, or restless.
  • Your child has been given an epinephrine shot, even if your child feels better.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as:
    • A rash or hives (raised, red areas on the skin).
    • Itching.
    • Swelling.
    • Belly pain, nausea, or vomiting.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • Your child does not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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