A Q&A with paediatrician and allergy specialist, Dr. Scott Sicherer, Jaffe Food Allergy Institute, Mount Sinai Medical Center
When do food allergies usually begin to show up in kids?
Typically it’s in the first year of life, and the tipoff might be either allergic rashes or having symptoms shortly after eating the food. So someone who gives their child egg, for example, and then sees hives, rashes, or vomiting right away — those types of symptoms would tip you off that maybe there’s a food allergy, and that you need to talk to your doctor.
Is there anything that can be done to prevent food allergies, say during pregnancy?
Probably the only answer right now is a healthy diet. There isn’t solid evidence that what the mother eats in terms of allergens causes her baby to have an allergy. But there is some notion that an unhealthy diet might be a risk factor, and that eating healthy foods might be helpful.
Until recently, there was the recommendation that if you have a family history of allergic reactions to certain foods, maybe you should avoid them. However, we now think that if a child is otherwise healthy, it doesn’t make sense to delay giving them those foods.
A lot of people see food allergies as a mere inconvenience but not necessarily something that is life-threatening. How can parents make others in their child’s life — caregivers, school teachers, and parents of other children — more understanding and aware of the challenges?
There are actually now a number of studies on the impact of food allergies on quality of life. I think the misconception you’re talking about is fading. People realize that you can die from allergic reactions, and even if the reaction isn’t as grave, you have to take it seriously. If you’re going to get sick from eating food you’re allergic to, it will have an impact on your life. It means that for every single meal, every single snack, you have to think about the allergy.
Simple pleasures like ordering food in a restaurant can feel like you’re cross-examining the server. “Who made this food? Are you sure you cleaned the grill before you grilled my food?” It can make a parent sound like they’re going overboard. But, if the restaurant industry and food manufacturers aren’t on board, if schools, camps, grandparents — if all these people aren’t paying attention, your child could get really sick, or potentially die. So that kind of awareness needs to be out there. It really takes the entire community to keep our children safe.
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