Allergies are becoming a more prominent problem in America. It is increasingly more common to walk into an elementary school cafeteria and see tables specifically for peanut, egg and milk allergies set off to the side, or for bakeries to feature specialties like gluten-free items.
A study in Pediatrics medical journal reported an increase of 18 percent in reported food allergies among children in the United States from 1997 to 2007. According to Dr. Jennifer DeMore of Allergy and Asthma Consultations of Mid-Michigan, six percent of children and three percent of adults now have food allergies in America.
There are many theories for this increase in sensitivity. The hygiene hypothesis suggests that by keeping our environments too clean with antibacterial soaps and bleach solutions, we are in fact increasing our sensitivity. Some scientists believe we’re provoking more allergies by using more antacids for children. Other suggestions include the rise in obesity among children, the increased use of multivitamins and increased exposure to more highly allergenic foods, such as peanuts.
But so far, the only thing that remains certain about the rise in allergies is that no one knows for certain what’s causing it. If we can’t prevent allergies, at least we can protect against them.
Allergies can range from something as common as milk to a rare spice. They can hit at any time in life, but are most likely to hit during childhood. Some foods, such as shellfish, tend to show up later in life because children don’t typically eat them.
Similarly, all food allergies have the potential to cause the same reactions. Symptoms can occur immediately or be delayed. Some of the milder symptoms include such things as an itching mouth, throat rashes, hives and swelling lips. However, more significant reactions include throwing up and difficulty swallowing and breathing.
When positive scratch test results confirm the cause of an allergy, DeMore educates patients on how to avoid the allergen with tactics like reading labels.
“Some foods you wouldn’t think of as containing peanuts, such as egg rolls, but they do,” said DeMore.
Allergies are not known to be genetic, making it tricky to predict who will have them or what they might be. Having a parent with an allergy increases the chance of a child having one, but it is not a certainty; the kinds of allergies passed down may change between generations as well, even as drastically as from food to weather-related. Because of these unpredictable factors, raising a child that is experiencing allergic reactions can be demanding and raise a lot of hard questions — many of which scientists have yet to find answers to.
“Kids can grow out of some allergies such as milk or eggs,” said DeMore. “It is important to monitor as time goes on.” Although handling allergies can be hard, DeMore said that having a support group and communicating with others coping with allergies can make the situation less daunting. Even something as simple as swapping wheat-free recipes can help build community with others with the same challenges.
“It’s so important for a child to fit in,” said DeMore. “In many classrooms, there won’t just be one child with allergies.”
Make your child’s allergies clear to everyone that cares for your son or daughter — teachers, babysitters, grandparents — even if your child knows the foods he or she is allergic to. Children’s trust in an adult taking care of them may override their knowledge of what foods are dangerous for them.
DeMore said that often times children will avoid the foods that cause allergic reactions because they know they make them feel lousy. She said there are books out there on the subject that can be read to children that can help them cope.
At this point there are no pills to take that can cure or reduce the pain of food allergies. DeMore stressed the importance of carrying an EpiPen everywhere, because you never know when there could be something that cross-contaminates.
“Some foods are just easier to avoid than others,” DeMore said.