Family Health Guide

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Allergies: Age-by-Age Guide

The best food for your newborn is your own milk. It’s a way to reduce the odds of your child having allergies. Still, some babies have allergic reactions to foods that their nursing moms eat.  If that seems like a possibility, have your baby tested for allergies and drop the offending foods from your diet.  

Of course, formula is a perfectly-healthy option too, if that’s your choice. Doing what’s right for you is always what’s best for your baby. 

When your child turns one, he may have cow’s milk—an excellent source of calcium and protein. But if he gets hives after drinking milk or eating other dairy products, he could be allergic to dairy. Talk to your doctor about testing him for milk allergy.   
In recent years, more and more prescription allergy medications have been shown to be safe and effective for children—some as early as age 2. Talk to your doctor about what medications are best for your child’s allergy symptoms. In fact, some over-the-counter cough and cold medications have recently been shown to be ineffective against symptoms.  
If your child has food allergies, you’ll need an action plan, which lays out the steps to take when your child has a reaction to a food. (Download the fill-in chart.) Copies should be given to anyone—relatives, babysitters, day care providers—who cares for your child.    
School-age Kids

Have a frank conversation with the teacher(s) about your child’s allergies and brainstorm ways to avoid allergens. For instance, you can encourage your pollen-allergic child to wash his hands well when he comes in from the playground. When your child is five, he is eligible for immunotherapy. Also typically by age 5, children are able to give themselves medications or self-administer an Epi-Pen.

Middle School and Up

By the time your child reaches middle school, she should be starting to take responsibility for her health. That can be a frightening time for parents of children with food allergies. Teens are famous for taking risks on the journey to adulthood, but when it comes to food allergies, the results could be tragic. Teens are more likely than younger children to eat unsafe foods. They may forget to carry their EpiPen, brush off symptoms or delay seeking treatment. In fact more than 50 percent of deaths from severe allergic reactions occur in teenagers.   

How can you keep them safe?  Start by having your tween practice asking food servers about how foods are prepared.  The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) has a “chef card” kids can download and fill out to give to a waiter to make sure what’s on their plate is safe to eat.  Studies show that many tweens find the social isolation common with food allergies to be one of the condition’s worst side effects. You can help your teen learn to discuss their allergies with friends and even enlist them in providing support when they’re out with others. It can also help to have child practice making simple statements when social outings are being planned, as in, “I can’t eat seafood” or “I’m allergic to peanuts.” With time, that habit will become automatic.