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How to deal with childhood food allergies

Managing food allergies can seem overwhelming – experts from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) share their advice on how to make it easier.

Girl sitting at a breakfast table

When you find out your child has a serious food allergy, it can be stressful and confusing. Understandably, many parents want to reduce the risk of an allergic reaction as much as possible, while still keeping life as normal for their child and the rest of the family.

How you manage your child’s allergy will ultimately come down to their particular diagnosis and situation, but there are some over-arching principals that are important for everyone.

Getting in the habit of taking precautions and having a clear plan to respond to a reaction is key. And tools like the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) AllergyPal app can make it much easier for parents.

Avoid allergens

While avoiding allergens sounds quite simple, it’s not always easy – many common food allergens can be in food ingredients where you wouldn’t think they’d be. Here are some things to keep in mind.

  • Get familiar with food labels: Read food labels closely for any particular allergens. In Australia and New Zealand, food manufacturers are required to declare common food allergens in their food products. Remember to check the labels every time, as ingredients can change. Be wary of products made overseas that may not have the same labelling standards. You may also notice voluntary statements like ‘May contain traces of nuts’ that are sometimes listed by manufacturers to indicate the possibility of cross-contamination. Check with your doctor if your child should avoid these foods.
  • Speak up: If you’re dining out, or your child is heading over to a friend’s for a party or play date, don’t be afraid to ask restaurant staff and other parents about potential allergens. Giving clear instructions on what your child can and can’t eat will make everyone feel more comfortable. You can share comprehensive instructions and information about allergens, specific to your child’s needs, through the AllergyPal app.
  • Empower your child: Give your child the confidence and skills to talk to adults about their allergy and ask what’s in their food so they can work to prevent reactions for themselves.
  • Inform their school, childcare and anyone looking after them: Work with your child’s school or childcare provider to make sure they are aware of allergies and know what to do in case of a reaction.

Have an action plan in case of a reaction, and share it

Even if you’re very cautious about allergens, accidents can happen. So it’s important you and anyone looking after your child knows what to do in case of a mild, moderate or severe reaction.

If your child has a serious allergy, you and your doctor will work together on an ASCIA action plan that clearly spells out the symptoms to look out for and the best course of action, including medications like antihistamines and adrenaline autoinjectors, like an epipen.

Leading allergy researcher Professor Mimi Tang says the AllergyPal app can help parents to respond in the case of a reaction.

“We can spend a lot of time educating people what is a serious or not serious reaction, and what they should do, but in the heat of the moment or a crisis, all the information flies out of their head. AllergyPal has a feature where you can select the symptoms your child is experiencing, and what you should do.”

Keep medications with your child at all times

If your doctor has prescribed medication in case of an emergency, it’s important to keep medication up-to-date and with your child at all times. If your child has been prescribed an adrenaline autoinjector (epipen), make sure you and others know how to use it. AllergyPal can guide you through the process.

Download the AllergyPal app

Developed by world-leading experts, MCRI’s AllergyPal is designed for anyone caring for a child with food allergies. MCRI’s Professor Katie Allen says AllergyPal can help parents to manage their child’s allergies and share important information.

“As a doctor, I give kids with food allergies allergy action plans. We photocopy them and one goes to school and one stays at home. But there are a lot of activities that kids do other than being at school or at home. The AllergyPal app provides an ASCIA Action Plan that goes wherever the kid goes. It’s the perfect solution.”

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