Children and Food Allergies: Awareness Can Save Lives
By Howard Seltzer, FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
Have you seen the news?
- In a study released last week, food allergy rates were highest for children 1 to 5 years. Overall, the study found that children were twice as likely to have food allergies as other groups.
- Another recent study reported that about 35 percent of children over the age of five with food allergies have experienced bullying, teasing or harassment.
If you have a child with food allergies, you know how important it is to educate them and the adults in their lives (including teachers, caregivers, and coaches) about the basics of food allergies and reactions
Read the Label
The first lesson is: read the label. By law, the labels on food regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (that is, all food except for poultry, most meats and certain egg products) must identify whether the food contains any of the eight most common allergenic foods:
- Fish (such as flounder, bass, or cod)
- Crustacean shellfish (such as crab, lobster, or shrimp)
- Tree nuts (such as almonds, walnuts, or pecans)
The label must also indicate if any ingredient in the food contains protein derived from one or more of these eight foods.
But what about food ingredients with odd names like lecithin? The law requires that, if an ingredient contains a major allergen, the allergen must appear on the label, in one of two ways:
- In parentheses after the name of the ingredient:
Example: lecithin (soy), flour (wheat), whey (milk)
- In a separate list after or next to the ingredients list.
Example: Contains soy, wheat, and milk.
While the eight major allergens account for 90 percent of food allergic reactions, more than 160 other foods can cause reactions that are serious, even life threatening. So, always be sure to read the ingredients list on the food’s label carefully to avoid allergens.
You should also check the label for additional statements like these:
- “may contain [allergen]”
- “produced in a facility that also uses [allergen]”
These kinds of statements indicate that the food may contain a trace amount of an allergen because of unintentional cross-contact during processing. Because of the risk of severe reactions in children to food allergens, take these labels seriously.
Understand the Symptoms
You know how challenging it can be to prevent children from being exposed to allergens. Even when both children and adults are vigilant, unintended exposure may occur. That’s why the second important lesson is: understand the symptoms.
Symptoms of food allergies typically appear from a few minutes to two hours after exposure. Reactions can include:
- Flushed skin or rash
- Tingling or itchy sensation in the mouth
- Face, tongue, or lip swelling
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Abdominal cramps
- Coughing or wheezing
- Dizziness and/or lightheadedness
- Swelling of the throat and vocal cords
- Difficulty breathing
- Loss of consciousness
If a child experiences any of these symptoms, make sure they get treatment immediately, even if the symptoms are mild. If the child is not treated promptly, mild symptoms could become more serious in a very short amount of time.
Tools to Educate
One tool for keeping your child safe is clear and accurate information that you can share with other adults, such as Food Allergies: What You Need to Know, a fact sheet in both English and Spanish, and Food Allergies: Reducing the Risks, an online video.
What do you do to educate others about food allergies?
I agree reading the label is step one on the road to safety but unfortunately many of those labels are still in a "foreign language" for the average consumer. Sure, reading the words at the beginning of an ingredient label are usually easy but then the farther it goes down, the labels just seem to go into a code only legible to a scientist or something. I myself had no idea casein, caseinate, whey etc. were all words meaning dairy products early when I started reading labels. I checked labels to look for milk, dairy, powdered milk etc.. Sure, now having the internet helps. But even today, not everyone has access to that luxury. And getting answers at the doctor's office is a waste of time. The insurance company won't let the medical provider spend that much time with each patient. So many people just get a diagnosis and then somehow they are supposed to train themselves what all of this means.
Got to keep those kids safe! The consequences of being exposed to an allergen are certainly not worth taking a chance. Thank you.
Thank you for sharing this important information and helping to educate people about the seriousness of food allergies. However, I wish that gluten would finally be added to the list of the "Big 8" allergens. It poses a serious threat to those with celiac disease, and it is time to updating the current ruling despite celiac being an autoimmune disease. Much more research is needed to fully understand the effects of gluten, but indicative research by the Mayo Clinic, the Celiac Center at the University of Maryland, and the Chicago University Celiac Disease Center suggest that the long-term effects of untreated celiac can be fatal.
REDUCE MSG TO 0 % IN ALL FOOD PRODUCTS.
I never had allergies as a kid, however, now they have peanut free schools. Why then can't they take this a step further and make festivals, fairs, etc. peanut free as well? There are many of us adults who now have this allergy and I and others who cannot even enjoy these things anymore because we can't be around "roasted nuts" or the smell of them without having a nearly fatal reaction. I live in a small community where the peanut free school is enforced, yet when it comes to their festivals, I have to leave home because of nut vendors roasting the nuts and the oil travelling through the air. It was the city's administrators that suggested that I sell my home and move as commerce comes before resident's needs.
Soybeans were regarded and recommended as a safe/natural food. How come it becomes one of the allergenic foods?