Food allergies are becoming more common in U.S. children

The scary reality is that food allergies are becoming more and more common in the United States. In the last 10 years there has been an 18 percent increase in children with food allergies. In fact, one in 22 children has a food allergy. That means most likely there is at least one child in each classroom with a food allergy. Halloween parties and trick or treating are just a few of the end of fall activities that can heighten the danger for kids with food allergies.

"Nut allergies can be especially dangerous," said Sean Cahill, MD, associate professor of pediatrics at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. "Allergies can be a life-or-death situation. Just because a child only had a rash the first time exposed doesn't mean it won't be more serious the next time."

Reactions can cause symptoms that range from watery eyes and a rash to anaphylaxis, which is when a person's airway swells and blood pressure drops. This can hinder breathing and cause a person to lose consciousness

"A peanut allergy is not limited to peanuts. Some people with a peanut allergy are allergic to numerous types of nuts and seeds, and nut allergies are often seen in kids with other food allergies, like eggs, or in kids with asthma and eczema," said Cahill.

Nuts contain tough proteins that protect seeds from being decomposed in the ground and from animals trying to eat them, like us. These proteins that are the cause of the allergic reaction.

"Research is showing that it's not airborne particles of nuts inhaled causing reactions, instead it is touching a surface that has been exposed to a nut and then ingesting the particles," said Cahill.

Here are a few tips to help keep your child safe at Halloween parties:
1.Communicate with the party host about your child's allergy and provide a list of specific foods that may cause a reaction.
2.Make sure all pans, dishes and serving utensils have been thoroughly cleaned if previously used with nuts. If the brownies with nuts are baked in the same pan as the brownies without nuts an allergic reaction may still occur.
3.When shopping products check labels. If it says the food has been made on the same machine as with nuts stay away. If it is processed in the same plant as products with nuts it's probably ok.
4.Wipe down all surfaces. Remember, it's touching a surface exposed to nuts, not inhaling nut particles that cause a reaction.

Here are a few ideas for keeping trick or treating safe for children with allergies:
1.If you have younger children give nut-free candy to neighbors in advance of Halloween and take your child to that specific house.
2.As soon as your child returns home go through his or her candy and separate out all treats with nuts or those that could cause a reaction. When in doubt get rid of the candy. It's always a good idea to check your child's candy after trick or treating, even if they don't have an allergy.
3.After you, a friend or relative have eaten an product with nuts be sure to brush your teeth and wash your hands before hugging or kissing a child with an allergy.

"Though having a nut allergy is serious, kids should still be able to have fun. The key is education. Make sure your child knows what he or she can eat," said Cahill.

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The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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