If you’re the parent of a child with food allergies, you know the holiday season—full of baked treats and festive gatherings— results in extra nail-biting. And even if your kid is allergy-free, chances are that some of his friends aren’t. so there’s always someone to worry about.
“We know that food allergies are definitely on the rise,” says Todd Mahr, M.D., a pediatric allergy and immunology specialist at Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center, in La Crosse, WI, “but we’re not totally sure why.” A recent study found that the incidence of food allergies among U.s. kids under age 18 is actually double what experts previously thought. About 6 million kids—8 percent of the population—have a food allergy. Young children may be disproportionately affected, since some kids outgrow their allergies with age. And among kids with food allergies, nearly 40 percent have a history of severe reactions, which makes for a lot of nervous parents.
Here, what to do if you suspect your child may have a food allergy:
Understand the Symptoms
“In a true food allergy, a reaction will occur within minutes to an hour after ingesting a particular food, not the next day,” says Dr. Mahr. symptoms can include swelling in the mouth or throat , wheezing, difficulty breathing, hives and other skin rashes, or pale skin . if your child is having difficulty breathing or is experiencing these symptoms soon after eating, get him to the ER. Think before you request a test testing for food allergies shouldn’t be routine and generally isn’t necessary unless your child has had an allergic reaction after eating. Having a parent with a food allergy alone is not a reason to perform tests, Dr. Mahr notes. Decode food labels if your child has been diagnosed with a food allergy, food-label sleuthing is a must. “Not all food allergens [substances that can cause allergies] are required to be labeled—not even ones that are becoming much more common, like sesame,” says Dr. Mahr. Packaged foods must state only whether they contain any of the top eight problem foods. if you’re searching for something else, it could be hidden within a general description like “flavors” or “spices.” if you’re unsure, take the safe route and don’t serve that food to your child.