Food allergies can be an overwhelming challenge for both parents and their children. Managing these allergies requires vigilance, education, and open communication to ensure that children can lead safe, healthy lives.
In this article, we explore the prevalence of food allergies among children, discuss strategies for coping with allergies, and provide insights into the diverse perspectives parents need to consider.
The Prevalence of Food Allergies in Singapore
Food allergies are becoming increasingly common among Singaporean children.
According to the National University Health System, there's limited information on Food Allergies in Singapore. It's estimated that not more than 5% of children younger than 12 years old have food allergies and the prevalence declines with age to about 1% in adults.
Children usually outgrow some food allergies such as milk and eggs, it is less likely with a seafood or nut allergy.
While the cause of food allergies is unknown, children with a strong family history of food allergies are at a higher risk of developing food allergies, suggesting that genes may contribute to developing food allergies. However, the exact genes that are responsible are unknown.
Environmental factors are also thought to play a part. Studies have shown that delayed introduction of foods into the baby's diet tends to increase the risk of developing food allergies. It is unclear how much this may hold true in an Asian population.
This also means that the introduction of solid foods should not be delayed beyond 4 to 6 months of age, including the so-called "allergenic" foods like eggs and peanuts.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of a Food Allergy?
If your child consumes the food allergen, it can result in wheezing (asthma attack), hives, allergic rhinitis (itchy nose or sneezing) vomiting, and diarrhea.
The symptoms of this reaction usually occur within 30 minutes after eating the offending food and last for up to 24 hours.
How Is a Food Allergy Diagnosed?
Skin prick tests and blood tests can be done to help diagnose a food allergy. They are also used over time to track the likelihood of the child outgrowing that particular allergy.
What Are the Treatment Options for a Food Allergy?
The standard advice for people with food allergies is to avoid eating the foods that cause their allergic reactions.
Immunotherapy, a treatment that reduces the risk of allergic reactions and improves the quality of life, is available for certain food allergies such as peanuts, cashews pistachios eggs milk wheat. But it's usually only given to kids older than 5 years old with special exceptions.
Tips for Caring Children With Food Allergies
Dealing with food allergies can seem daunting, but taking a comprehensive and proactive approach can help manage the challenges effectively. Below are some tips to help parents successfully navigate food allergies in their children:
Get a professional diagnosis: Consult with a paediatric allergist to obtain an accurate diagnosis and understand the severity of your child's allergy. By doing so, you'll gain insights into the best course of action to protect your child from allergens.
Educate your child: Teach your child about their food allergy, making it relatable and suitable for their age. Help them recognize common allergens in their diet and understand the importance of reading food labels diligently. Encourage them to ask questions and communicate their allergy needs with others.
Solidify a support system: Talk to your child's teachers, caregivers, and other parents. Inform them about your child's allergy, describe its severity, and share how they can accommodate and support your child. Arming your community with accurate information ensures everyone is on the same page and contributes to your child's safety.
Create an emergency action plan: Have a plan in place in case your child accidentally consumes an allergen. Discuss this plan with your child, caregivers, and medical professionals. Ensure that everyone involved is aware of the required emergency medications, such as an epinephrine auto-injector, and knows how to administer it when needed.
Explore and share allergy-friendly recipes: Prepare delicious, allergen-free meals for your child and share your recipes with others. By doing so, you'll introduce your child to diverse foods and flavors while also building a sense of community with other families with similar experiences.
Parental Challenges and Tips for Overcoming Them
Managing a child's food allergies can be a hefty responsibility for parents, especially when managing several other responsibilities such as work, finances, and raising other children. Below are some common challenges parents face and solutions to help them cope:
Stress and anxiety: It's natural for parents to worry about their child's safety when they are not in their direct care. To alleviate stress, communicate openly with your child and their caregivers about allergy management, and trust that your guidance will empower your child to make safe decisions.
Time-consuming meal preparations: Preparing allergen-free meals can be time-consuming. To save time and effort, consider meal prepping at the beginning of the week, cooking in large batches, and freezing meals for future consumption. By doing so, you'll have more time to spend with your family and less time in the kitchen.
Feeling overwhelmed with information: With the abundance of information surrounding food allergies, it's essential to prioritize data from trusted professional sources, such as your allergist, reputable websites, and organizations specializing in allergies.
In conclusion, by adopting a proactive, educational, and supportive approach, you can empower your child to navigate their food allergy journey confidently. Acknowledging diverse perspectives and creating an inclusive environment for all children with food allergies fosters a sense of empathy and community support.