When I first became a food allergy parent I had no true comprehension of the severity and unpredictability of food allergies. Even with a family history of food allergies, I had never witnessed an allergic reaction myself.
We learn one of two ways: direct experience or through education - by listening to others stories and gaining an understanding. You don’t know what you don’t go through! So I don’t expect those who don’t have experience to know everything about food allergies. Heck, I didn't know many of these things before becoming a food allergy parent!
But now that I do know, there are a few things that I think are important for everyone, including non-food allergy parents, to know to better understand why we do the things we do.
So from a food allergy parent (who now knows), here are 10 things I would like you to know:
Food allergies aren’t a choice. And trust me, no one wishes they knew what caused them more than a food allergy parent.
There are lots of theories out there about why and who ends up developing food allergies, but there’s no definitive “cause”. Family history and other conditions, such as asthma and eczema can play a role or increase risk, but there’s no singular cause or reason.
Food allergies are not a dietary preference. They are not an intolerance. They are not a choice.
Food allergies and food intolerances are often interchanged, but they are not the same. Making this generalization can be dangerous for those with food allergies as even a trace amount can cause an anaphylactic reaction.
Food intolerances are not easy either. They are uncomfortable and there’s a reason people select to not eat certain foods. BUT, there’s a big difference. Food intolerances affect the GI system and will not cause anaphylaxis.
Food allergies create an immune response and can cause serious reactions, including anaphylaxis.
Please don’t interchange these different medical conditions.
Peanuts, and even tree nuts, have had some great marketing and branding as top allergens. And while they are a part of the top nine common allergens, and need to be taken seriously, they aren’t the only allergens.
Anyone can be allergic to anything. The most common food allergen in children is actually milk. The top nine food allergens, which include milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, shellfish, fish, soy, wheat, and sesame, cause around 90% of allergic reactions.
So I guess what I’m saying is don’t assume the allergies are always and only to peanuts.
We all know trust takes time, but there’s a whole new level of trust that comes with managing food allergies. From both the parent and the child’s perspective.
When food is both a necessity and a potentially dangerous hazard, we walk a tightrope trusting others with food.
Whether babysitter’s, servers and staff at restaurants, caregivers, and more, if food will be involved, we’re likely very anxious until trust is built . . . and that will take some time.
Please don’t be offended if we (or our children) don’t accept food you made. It’s not that we don’t appreciate the gesture, we just may not want to take an unnecessary risk if we don’t know or feel safe about what’s in it.
Please don’t be offended if we want to read the ingredients even if you tell us “it’s safe”. We need to verify.
Please don’t be offended if we ask a lot of questions. We’re only trying to ensure the safety of our children.
We will likely get there, but it will just take time.
There is no “safe amount” for a child with food allergies, not even a little bit. Every reaction is different and for some, even contact or a trace amount can turn into anaphylaxis.
Every reaction is an isolated event. How someone reacted previously will not determine how their next reaction would be.
When a food allergy parent says “even a little could hurt them”, they are not exaggerating. They’ve seen it firsthand. Please take it seriously and refrain from saying things like “a little won’t hurt them.”
I have three kids. I know how HARD it is to keep them seated for any period of time in one spot, especially when at public play areas, like a local playground or science center, etc.
When kids eat while running around, they are also leaving traces of their food on whatever they touch - swings, slides, handrails, books, etc.
At public parks, please consider using picnic tables for eating, not the play equipment itself. Please also wipe your kids hands, or even better, wash them before they return to playing.
I’ve seen whole pizza slices left on playgrounds. While older food allergy kids understand to avoid and not touch, younger children with allergies don’t understand yet. And we ALL know how much kids like putting things in their mouths!
If there’s not a designated area, consider eating before or after you attend the public place or heading to your car or a place away from the play area to eat.
We live in a culture where food is a prominent part of our celebrations. We completely understand the importance and even fun with food, but it becomes a nightmare when food becomes the centerpiece of the event.
This doesn’t mean you can’t include food, but keeping it out of focus from the spotlight and using food only when necessary and keeping it to simple, healthy snacks is appreciated.
We don’t need candy for every celebration at school or to use “real” food in our curriculums. There’s other ways to celebrate through experiences rather than through food.
And if you need ideas or safe food options, please reach out to us! We’ve got all the ideas and are always willing to support and help.
Yes, unfortunately there are times when we do have to hover or when it looks like we’re getting “too involved” but it’s ALWAYS for the safety of our children.
We’ll likely ask you a lot of questions if food is involved. We need to.
We aren’t helicopter parents. We’re parents who are ensuring the safety of our children so they can be children and enjoy the experiences around them without worry.
I don’t expect anyone to change or be as vigilant as we are, but when others do make small changes to include those with food allergies, it means THE WORLD to us!
Whether it’s switching out candy with non-food treats to participating in Teal Pumpkin project or telling us ahead of time if food is going to be involved so we can prepare - it ALL seems small, but is truly appreciated by us food allergy parents.
These small gestures also show our kids that others do care and are willing to support them.
I'm not sure if I'm more aware now or if it's become more common, but more often we’ve started to see tv shows, movies, and other outlets reference food allergies. While some references can be supportive and help educate the population, many others we've seen turn them into a joke and something to get a quick laugh at.
There’s enough content in this world that can bring humor in a way that doesn’t demean or cause anxiety to others. We don’t need to bring food allergies into the fold, which can also create more confusion and misconceptions about the severity of reactions.
Trust me, if you’ve ever witnessed anaphylaxis, you’d never joke about it.
A food allergy diagnosis comes with a full lifestyle change and one that food allergy parents are thrown into quickly. I hope this list has educated and informed those who haven’t experienced food allergies to better understand why we do the things we do.
Thank you for taking the time to read to gain some understanding. 🙂