Newly Diagnosed with Food Allergy(ies)- Now What?

When you learn your child has a food allergy(ies), regardless if their reaction is a mild skin irritation or life threatening anaphylaxis, the diagnosis can bring a mix of thoughts and emotions and questions.  

To help you filter through the volumes of information out there, here is a list (a little longer than I planned) compiled from the experience of other allergy moms  to help the parents of children newly diagnosed with food allergies.  Here you go:

  1. Confirm the Allergy.  
    The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (“ACAII“) has a tool to help you Find a Board Certified Pediatric Allergist who specializes in food allergies.  He/She can verify the food allergy through clinical evidence as well as the appropriate allergy testing (such as skin/scratch tests, RAST blood tests, food challenges).   Food allergies are challenging to manage, no need to avoid foods if your child really isn’t allergic.
     
  2. Visit the FAAN Website (www.foodallergy.org).
    The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network is an amazing organization with LOTS of resources to support you through your journey.

    1. Read the sections relating to your child’s allergy.
    2. Subscribe to FAAN’s Food Allergy Alert emails.  Labelling is getting better, but manufacturers make mistakes.  When a product is recalled due to undeclared allergens, you’ll get an email about it from FAAN.
    3. Learn how to read labels and understand ingredients.
       
  3. Focus on the Positive.
    1. Make an inventory of what your child CAN eat.
    2. If you choose not to be an allergen free household, organize your kitchen and food storage area so it is clear which foods are safe for your child to eat. (stickers, special shelf or cabinet).
       
  4. Be Prepared. 
    1. Create an Allergy Medical Emergency Kit and keep this with your child at all times, no exceptions!  The contents of this kit will vary depending on the severity of your child’s allergic reaction, but assuming the most severe anaphylaxis reactions is possible, here are some suggestions for your kit:
      1. Store everything in a “grab and go” bag (I use a 7”x8” red canvas “medical” bag with a clip on it, but a quart size Ziploc bag works too)
      2. Emergency Information Card – with child’s full name, date of birth, allergy information, instructions on how to administer medicine, and phone numbers of who to call
      3. Two (2) Epinephrine Auto-Injectors
      4. Two (2) doses of liquid Benadryl (I like the Benadryl Perfect Measures)
      5. A tissue travel pack or wet ones or diaper wipes
      6. Cell phone (working and charged)
      7. Band-Aids and Neosporin (not allergy related, but always good to have on hand)
    2. Create an Emergency Food/Snack Kit.
      Keep a small stash of food that is safe fore your child in your purse or car.  Snacks seem to be served everywhere from Sunday school to the bank!  So, if you have a stash of 1-2 safe cookies or snacks in your purse…you never have hurt feelings.  Also, depending on the severity of your child’s allergy, it may be tough to find safe food in a pinch when you are stuck longer than you planned (in traffic or waiting for your car to be serviced or even at the mall).
       
  5. Build Your Child’s Support Network.
    It is such an overwhelming place to be when you first learn your child has food allergies.  Find someone who has experienced (or is experiencing) food allergies and have a discussion with them.  As your child gets older, and they head off to play dates, school, dates (ugh!) … you and they cannot (and should not) do this alone, and will rely on many more people to help keep them safe:

    1. Find other parents with kids with food allergies:  find a support group on the FAAN website, read blogs on the internet, ask your doctor to make an introduction, talk to your child’s teacher/principal, friends, family neighbors… everyone.
    2. Inform your child’s teachers, caregivers, family, etc… and educate them about how to prevent allergic reactions, how to recognize allergic reactions, and what to do in case of a reaction occurs
         
  6. Talk to Your Child(ren).
    Just like tying their shoes, crossing the street, and driving… managing their food allergy will someday transfer from your responsibility to their responsibility.  Teach them everything you learn as you learn it; teach them to talk about their food allergy to others; teach them not to be afraid of food.  There are lots of great books at the FAAN website that you can read with your child to get the conversation started.  Don’t forget to include your non-allergic children in the conversation.  They are part of the team too.
     
  7. Get Certified in Infant/Child CPR – Food allergies or not… this is a life skill every parent should acquire.  The Red Cross offers courses that can include EpiPen training as well. 

A food allergy diagnosis can be overwhelming at first, but the good news is… You are not alone and you can do this! 

 Do you have suggestions for parents of children newly diagnosed with a food allergy? Tell them about that book that explained everything, that website full of resources, that e-mail group you still lean on, that experience with your child that made you see things differently. Those of us who have been there have important gifts to share.

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