I recently put out a request for friends to ask me, “Food allergy questions you’ve always been afraid to ask.” I wanted to know what others were curious about with regard to food allergies.
I received a great mix of food allergy questions. I’m hopeful my answers below are educational and informative. I’m not a medical expert, but I can share my family’s personal experience, what our allergists have told us, and some of what I’ve found through extensive research. Please keep in mind that individual food allergies will vary and medical specifics should always be discussed with a licensed professional.
The Food Allergy Questions:
Can children who are allergic to certain foods have a reaction from touching them?
Yes, children can have a reaction from simply touching a food they are allergic to. This is called a contact reaction. In some really severe cases, children can have airborne reactions. Our allergist says that is most common with seafood or peanut allergies, but it can include other allergens as well. In my son’s case, thus far, if he touches an allergen, he experiences hives and swelling. He has only gone into anaphylaxis after ingesting an allergenic food. We take this information with a grain of salt though, as each subsequent allergic reaction can be different and more severe.
How far away does my kiddo with her peanut butter sandwich need to sit from your kiddo?
That really depends. Talking about my kiddo specifically, yours can be at the same table as mine. He eats lunch with his cousins every day and sometimes they eat one of his allergens. He knows he can’t go to his spot at the table until it’s been wiped down. The cousins all know they can’t share food and must wash their hands after eating. If I know the child, I’m reasonably comfortable with my son being an arm’s length away from them while eating, especially if I’m present. I know a lot of parents like their child to be a full table or room away from certain allergens. The answer for a child who is airborne allergic is obviously very different than one who will only react if they touch or ingest an allergen. Ask the parent and they’ll be able to tell you what is best for their child and will be very appreciative you’re thinking about their family in general.
Why doesn’t my child’s school have a nut-free table? I don’t know a lot, but it’s my understanding that most schools have nut-free tables now.
There are a lot of board-certified allergists that don’t support nut-free schools or any other school-wide food bans. I think this article explains it well. The main thought is that nut-free schools can create a false sense of security. Regulations on handwashing and cleaning might not be as well enforced as they would be with known allergens present. It is understandably difficult to monitor every lunch/lotion/birthday treat that goes into a school. Claiming to be allergen-free could possibly end up putting kids with food allergies at a greater risk. All of that said, I’m still thankful my son will be in a peanut-free preschool next year. There are plenty of other foods and things to think about, so I appreciate not having peanuts on the list.
Is it better for schools to have a “nut-free table” or a “nuts-allowed table”?
I think it again comes down to how well compliance can be monitored and controlled. Our allergist is more in support of a nut-free table, as it is easier to monitor. I’m in support of this too, as long as other children are allowed to sit at the table if their lunch is approved. I really hope this will be the case for my son. It breaks my heart to think there is a potential for him to never eat lunch with his friends. I’ve been told that a lot of times non-allergic kids will ask to have a safe lunch so they can eat with their allergic friends. I hope that always continues. If you’re unsure what to pack for your non-allergic child, reach out to the food allergy parent. Trust me! They really will appreciate it.
Can a kid outgrow their allergy?
Yes, a child can definitely outgrow their allergy. It is really common for a child to outgrow their milk or egg allergy. It is less common for a child to outgrow a peanut allergy, but peanut has at least been the most studied for desensitization via oral immunotherapy (and other really cool things like fecal matter transplant and peanut patches called Viaskin).
My son is in the minority in that he is almost three and has yet to outgrow his milk or egg allergy. He actually can’t even tolerate either allergen in its baked form which is even rarer. Children are allergic to the food protein and heat changes that in a way that allergic children can typically tolerate. For my son, he still experienced anaphylaxis with baked milk and baked egg (both tested via supervised food challenges at a hospital). This means he is less likely to outgrow either allergy, but it’s not a guarantee of anything. The specific causes of food allergies and their severity are still largely a mystery to doctors.
With severe allergies, are you able to eat in restaurants with your kiddo? Or is it safer/easier/less stressful to only eat in your home?
Safer, easier, and less stressful to eat at home = definitely. Especially right now when he still puts his fingers in his mouth far too often. Also, he’s (almost) three, so a sit-down meal at a restaurant has an inherent level of chaos about it already. My son has only ever eaten food from one restaurant. When we do go out to eat and he is with us, we bring his food. He isn’t bothered by this yet and it gives us great peace of mind to know exactly what he is eating. We’ve never had an issue bringing his food (although multiple places have tried to convince us to order something for him on the spot stating they can handle allergies).
We now always bring his meals in a PlanetBox lunch box so it’s easy to simply clean his area and stick the tray in front of him. All of that said, eating at home is more enjoyable for everyone. I don’t like constantly hounding my son about keeping his fingers out of his mouth or not reaching too far across the table when a crayon rolls away, but it’s inevitably what happens when we are out. At home, we use candles and usually have flowers to keep dinners fun, exciting, and “fancy,” as he will tell you. When the time comes that he wants to eat out more, we will definitely work to make that happen if we safely can. For now, we try to use eating out as a date night excuse for my husband and me instead. We also save a bit of money and can put that towards some of my son’s insanely expensive food. A good balance, I suppose.