I don’t know if anyone but me has noticed, but it seems that there are more people with allergies these days, specially children.

When my kids were young they  weren’t allergic to much.  One of my daughters was briefly allergic to shell fish, but she outgrew that in her late teens.  I recall that a couple of my kids also had mild reactions (a small rash) to a particular antibiotic, but that’s about it.  There were no milk  or peanut allergies.

So why do all my grandkids have so many allergies?  Not only do they have allergies, they  have eczema and asthma too.   I learned during my interview with Dr. Shazad Mustafa, Medical Advisory Board Chair of the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Connection Team (FAACT) and a leading allergist, that allergies can be part of a bundle with other conditions including eczema and asthma.

All my grandkids were born with varying degrees of milk allergies.  Most of them were able to tolerate soy milk or the “sensitive” version of over the counter commercial formula, but two of them, Harper and Jett, were allergic to that as well.  Those two ended up drinking Neocate, the baby formula made from amino acids.  It was not only very expensive, it requires a prescription and must be ordered in advance because it’s not usually stocked by any pharmacy.  And of the two babies on Neocate Harper outgrew her allergy by age one, Jett who is now 3 is still allergic to dairy and a bunch of other things.

So we’re pretty familiar with allergies and allergists.  Two of the kids, Jett and Dion who’s 14, have both been thru the allergy tests and have a long list of things they are allergic to.  Jett seems to have it the worst, his list of allergens is very long and includes eggs and peanuts.  And all the grandkids have seasonal allergies to environmental things like grass and trees.  (One year Dion broke out in hives for 4 months, we never did figure out what triggered his allergies that year in spite of the battery of tests and biopsies he went thru.  The hives just disappeared one day!)

Now some folks may take allergies lightly, but they really shouldn’t.  Allergies can be serious and life threatening.  Sure some people just have runny noses in the spring and fall, uncomfortable, but usually not life threatening.  But some allergic reactions lead to anaphylactic shock which is often life threatening.  That’s why identifying and managing allergies is very important.

Peanuts are a very common allergen, it’s also probably one of the most serious for many people. That’s why I was intrigued by the new guideline from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.  It is now calling for parents to give their children foods containing peanuts early and often, starting when they are infants, as a way to help avoid life-threatening peanut allergies.

I spoke with Dr. Shazad Mustafa about this new guideline last week.  It was an interesting turn around from previous guidelines, but as he emphasizes, do not start feeding your children anything with peanuts without the guidance of your doctor.  He emphasized that if this is something you want to consider you must discuss it with your child’s doctor and the first time you give your child peanuts it should be done in the doctor’s office so that help is readily available should it be needed.  In short do not do this at home!

Please have a look at the video of my interview with Dr. Shazad Mustafa, it answers some questions you might have about your child’s allergies.

It’s good to know that some kids will eventually outgrow their allergies, but in the mean time it’s very important to manage them.  This can be very challenging as we know from managing Jett’s allergies.  It’s not only important to avoid the things they are allergic to like milk and eggs.  Of course you won’t be giving your child milk or eggs for breakfast if you know they are allergic to them, but you might not think twice about giving her bread or cake, both of which could contain those allergens.  So here are  5 tips to help you manage your child’s allergies.

Find out what your child is allergic to.

Your first clue might be a rash or hives after your child eats something new or different (food allergies) or after going to a certain place (environmental allergies).  Or perhaps your infant “spits up” too much formula after a feeding.  Or a toddler gets a tummy ache after eating.  Look out for these signs, it may alert you to possible allergies.

If you do notice any type of reaction write down what the child ate, where you were and what you were doing, and what the reaction was.  It’s important to remember that not all allergens are ingested.  You can be allergic to things in the environment (pollen, dust, dander, etc.) and things you use at home (soap, shampoo, laundry detergent, etc.) Keep this list handy so you can add to it and bring it to your doctor if need be.

You may be referred to a specialist, allergists, for further testing and treatment.  This will usually pinpoint exactly what your child is allergic to.

Read labels before  you buy anything that will be eaten or used by your child.

This is probably the best tip I can give you.  Once you find out what your child is allergic to of course you must avoid them.  As I said earlier you wouldn’t feed your child milk or eggs if he’s allergic to them, but what about food items that contain milk and eggs?

You’ll be surprised to find how many things you don’t think contain allergens actually do.  And remember to read the warning on the packages.  Some items may not directly contain the allergens but are produced in a facility where the allergens are present.  Peanuts and tree nuts , and dairy are usually the most common warnings you’ll find.  To avoid cross contaminated products it’s usually best to avoid using items where the possibility for cross contamination exists.

Introduce new things to your child one or two at a time.

This allows you to easily determine what caused a reaction.  If you expose your child to multiple possible allergens it will be that much harder to pinpoint what caused the reaction.

Wash your hands after handling things your child is allergic to.  Rinse your mouth after eating things your child is allergic to.

This avoids passing the allergens to your child.  I know it seems extreme, but it’s not.  Jett who is allergic to eggs once broke out into a rash within minutes of touching an eggshell; so his mom washes her hands thoroughly after handling eggs.  He also broke out in a rash when his mom kissed him after drinking a peanut butter shake!  So to be safe always wash away possible allergens before touching your child.  Anyway hand washing is a healthy habit to have as it also helps keep harmful viruses and bacteria from spreading.

Purchase multiple Epi-Pens.

Epi-pens are prescribed to children and adults who have allergies.  I know they are very expensive.  Last time we purchased a set of 2 for Dion it cost about $500.  Some health plans do cover the purchase of epi-pens, check with your health insurance to see if yours does.  To make it even costlier these pens expire after one year and new ones must be purchased.

We have multiple pens.  We leave a pen at every facility the kids spend time at without a parent present.  In Jett’s case at pre-school, his babysitter, and daycare location.  His parents also each carry a pen with them at all times.

Also learn how to properly use the pen and make sure you take your child to the emergency room should you ever have to use the pen.

To learn more about peanut allergies and management click here!