Are food allergies on your radar? They might not be. Especially if you don’t have allergies in your own family. That’s why I’m busting 5 common food allergy myths.
It’s very important for all parents to understand food allergies— the CDC says that 1 in 13 kids has them. So chances are, you’ll encounter them at some point through your child’s friends, classmates or teammates. But thanks to this post, you’ll be ready!
Food Allergy Myth #1: Hand sanitizer will cleanse away allergens.
Hand sanitizer, while great for combatting germs, is not an effective way to remove food allergens from your hands. Neither is plain water. The best way? Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
This is important for everyone—not just the person with the food allergy. If you have the allergen on your hands, you can transfer it to the individual with the allergy. Even trace amounts can trigger an allergic reaction.
We’ve all become very sensitive to the transfer of viruses and germs during the Covid-19 pandemic, but this isn’t a new way of life for parents of children with food allergies. You can help keep everyone safe by keeping this in mind, and applying this same level of vigilance when you’re in charge of a child with a food allergy.
Food Allergy Myth #2: If you won’t be eating, you don’t need to carry epinephrine with you.
Epinephrine is a medication that can reverse the symptoms of a life-threatening allergic reaction (anaphylaxis). If you are responsible for a child with a food allergy, always, always, ALWAYS be sure to have his or her epinephrine auto-injectors (like Epi-Pens® or AUVI-Q ®) with you—even if you aren’t planning to eat.
Let’s say you’re planning on bringing your daughter and her friend (who happens to have a peanut allergy) to the playground. For just an hour of play, you might think there’s no need to have the epinephrine. But where there are other children, there are snacks. And where there are snacks, there are allergens.
If your daughter’s friend comes into contact with peanut butter or peanuts, you need to be prepared. Epinephrine is a defense that you can use right away if a child is having a severe reaction, while you wait for paramedics to arrive. I know it sounds dramatic, but truly every second counts.
Always carrying epinephrine auto-injectors also gives you the ability to be spontaneous and flexible. Maybe you weren’t planning on eating, but the ice cream truck comes down the street. Or maybe there’s a change in plans, and suddenly you are responsible for providing lunch. That medicine gives you the freedom to do those things as safely as possible. But always check with a parent first, before giving a child with an allergy anything!
Food Allergy Myth #3: Food allergens are only in food.
When it comes to food allergies, you only have to worry about foods, right? Actually, that’s not true.
The top allergens (milk, egg, peanut, soy, wheat, tree nut, shellfish, finned fish, and sesame) can also be found in beverages such as smoothies, specialty coffees, alcoholic drinks, etc.
Okay, so drinks—not much of a stretch. But you may be surprised to learn that many of those top allergens are also present in cosmetics and products like lotions, bath fizzes, shampoos, conditioners, and make-up.
Here’s an example: shea butter. It comes from the shea nut, which is a tree nut– and it’s a super common ingredient in lotions.
What’s scarier is that food allergen labeling laws don’t apply here, even if the product contains food ingredients! The package doesn’t have to list common food allergens in plain English, clearly state that it contains a food allergen, or warn that the product may be cross-contaminated by a common food allergen.
Marketing terms such as “all-natural,” “plant-based,” “organic,” “clean” or “hypoallergenic” do not equate to “safe” for someone with a food allergy. So pay extra close attention to these product labels and ingredients lists, especially when you’re going to be around, or caring for, someone with a food allergy.
Food Allergy Myth #4: Some food allergies are “mild.”
Certainly, the symptoms of a food allergy can range from mild (like a few itchy hives) to severe (impaired breathing, a drop in blood pressure, or loss of consciousness). But allergists say it’s impossible to predict how the body will respond during a future reaction (source: ACAAI). If a child has only ever had hives when accidentally exposed to her or his allergen, he or she could still experience anaphylaxis the next time. For this reason, physicians don’t categorize someone as being “mildly allergic.”
Food Allergy Myth #5: Kids will outgrow their food allergies.
Of course, some children will outgrow food allergies. But not all kids.
About 60% to 80% of children with a milk or egg allergy will be able to have those foods by the age of 16. But only 20% of children outgrow a peanut allergy, only 14% outgrow tree nut allergies, and a mere 4%-5% outgrow fish or shellfish allergies.
Friends, family, and other parents in the community can help support children with food allergies by keeping in mind that the possibility of someday outgrowing the allergy, while encouraging, doesn’t minimize the reality or the danger of the allergy today.
Interested in learning more?
Check out How to Host an Allergy Safe Play Date–What Moms Need to Know. Or read about one mom’s journey with her son (who is allergic to peanuts) through exposure therapy.