Today, one in thirteen children has a food allergy. Even if your family doesn’t live with food allergies, there’s a good chance you know someone who does—or you will someday soon. Statistically, that’s two students in every classroom who are allergic to one or more foods. If your child is heading off to daycare or school in the near future, it’s important to brush up on your food allergy awareness. Food allergy mom, Meg Nohe, was a recent guest on the Moms You Meet Podcast, and she spilled the beans (pun intended) on what life is like with a kid who has food allergies and the importance of being an ally to the food allergy community.

Diagnosing Food Allergies

Food allergies can be difficult to diagnose at first, especially with some symptoms arising before a child is old enough to tell you something doesn’t feel right. “The tricky thing is food allergy is constantly breathing and changing and moving and not only is every allergy different, every reaction in every person can present differently,” Meg says. But it’s important to trust your gut feelings as a parent. If something seems off, talk to your pediatrician right away. Early symptoms in infants can include acid reflux, loose stools, and eczema. When in doubt, bring it up with your child’s doctor!

It’s also helpful to monitor your baby closely when they’re trying new foods for the first time. Experts recommend introducing the top food allergens: peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, eggs, milk and soy, individually, which makes it easier to spot a reaction.

Meg shared that her daughter presented with a cough after exposure to small amounts of peanuts. “I can confidently say that that was a severe reaction, but I didn’t know that and I didn’t know the different systems it can affect and how differently it can present in different people.” If you do miss early signs of an allergic reaction, forgive yourself and move forward. New parents are under a lot of stress and it can be easy to overlook or dismiss more subtle signs.

Resources for Food Allergy Families

For families living with food allergies, it’s a great time to be alive. There has been a huge increase in both awareness and research on the topic in just the past decade. The LEAP study, published in 2015, offers families new guidance (and hope) on introducing potential allergens earlier in order to reduce reactions by up to 80%. The rise of social media platforms has enabled food allergy families to come together in cross-country support groups, offering a place for parents to share resources and connect with others.

It’s a lot easier to manage now, even now than it was, I would say, 5 years ago. It’s even a huge step forward. We’re just learning so much more and putting a lot of effort into now that we’ve realized how big of a problem it is. I mean 32 million Americans have food allergies and that number is growing.

While peanuts are the number one cause of food-induced anaphylaxis, we now know they aren’t the only potential risk in our diets. In the United States, the FDA requires that foods be labeled with the top eight food allergens, making it easier for parents to make safer selections at the grocery store. Food manufacturers are also creating a wider array of allergen-alternative products, like gluten-free pastas and nut butters. Expanding research and funding has also led to the establishment of companies like Allergy Amulet, who are innovating new ways to make dining out safer.

Being a Food Allergy Ally

While the number of families living with food allergies is on the rise, the truth is that many of us will not experience the fear and confusion of a food allergy diagnosis first-hand. For the rest of us, we can learn to be good allies.

I love when other families ask a lot of questions. You know, they might have my daughter over for a playdate and they might say ‘We don’t have food allergies. I don’t understand it, but can she have this? Is it ok if she’s around it in the same room? Is it ok if on the label it says processed in a shared facility or does she have to avoid even that?’ Just cause, as a parent, it doesn’t worry me if someone says ‘I don’t understand.’ It’s so helpful when they say ‘I want to understand.’ Then you also feel the idea of inclusion. Food allergies can be isolating, especially when, you know, fear grips your heart when you’re sending your child on a playdate. Just asking a lot of questions just makes my heart sing when people do that.

Humans are social creatures and so much of our social lives revolve around food and eating. What can be joyful and enjoyable for some, is fear-inducing and exclusionary for food allergy families. Meg shares, “Open communication, as with everything in life, is half the battle.”

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