Has your child been diagnosed with a food allergy? If you are feeling anxious or confused by all of the information available, you are not alone. These are common feelings that parents of children with food allergies experience. I hope I can help you with a few tips to make managing with a child that has a food allergy a little easier.

There is no cure for food allergy, however, it can be managed. Many children grow out allergies, for example, milk and egg allergy. Food allergy can be managed by removing the problem food completely from the diet, reducing the risk of your child consuming the problem food. Teaching your child and their carers about food allergy and what to do if they have an allergic reaction is an important part of living with a food allergy.

Potential allergens are good sources of protein, iron, calcium, iodine, and in some cases, omega 3. These nutrients can also be found in alternative sources. A 1:1 consultation can help you with this.

Reading Labels

Reading food labels is a key factor in living with a food allergy. Any pre-packaged food or drink must clearly state, by law, if the food contains any of the following potential allergens; milk, eggs, gluten, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, soya beans, sesame seeds, celery, lupin, mustard or sulphites.

Unpackaged food does not need to be labelled in the same way. Food businesses such as a bakery, butcher or delicatessen, are required under law, to tell customers if their foods contain potential allergens. This information may be provided on an allergen menu, or you may be advised to speak with a member of staff.

Precautionary allergen labelling such as “may contain” or “not suitable for” suggests that there is a risk of unintentional presence of an allergen. This is used to inform customers there may be traces of an allergen in a food product. This may occur due to cross-contamination if several food products are manufactured on the same premises. If you have an allergy, it is safer to avoid food with this type of labelling. Total avoidance of foods with such labelling can lead to a very restrictive diet and may not be necessary in your child’s case. You should discuss this further at your child’s allergy appointment or with the dietitian.

It is important to continue checking packaging for allergens as ingredients/recipes can change. It is also important to note that just because a product is labelled as “vegan” does not mean the food is absent from allergens. Do not assume a food product is allergen-free unless it clearly states it.

Eating Out

If you are planning on eating out, the following advice should help:

Ring ahead and let the staff know– When booking a table, inform the staff, including the chef, kitchen staff, waiters, and waitresses, about your child’s allergy. This should help to highlight the importance of avoiding cross-contamination when serving your table. If the restaurant won’t or can’t give you the appropriate allergen information, don’t take the risk.

Read the menu carefully– Check for hidden ingredients and don’t hesitate to ask the staff if you are unsure. Some foods/cooking methods may contain foods that could trigger an allergy, for example frying in peanut oil, sauces containing wheat or peanut, desserts containing nuts.

Prepare for the worst– always bring anti-allergy medicine or if your child needs to carry adrenaline, make sure they always have two adrenaline pens with them when they leave the house.

Parties, play dates, Halloween and after-school activities

Social activities are an important part of your child’s development. Your child’s allergy should not inhibit their attendance or participation. Discuss your child’s allergy with the parents/teacher/carer in charge of the social event. You could advise them which foods are safe for your child or you could prepare a safe-food party pack for your child. Discuss your child’s emergency care plan with the person in charge of the event and give them a written copy of the plan. Reassure them that the risk of allergic reaction is low in the absence of the problem food, and check their understanding.

For more practical tips and advice on living with allergies, check out the Irish Food Allergy Network.

Remember to trust your gut. If something doesn’t seem right, seek help or contact your GP.