Dealing with food allergies, particularly right after diagnosis, can be laden with stress and anxiety. It’s important to express these emotions so that you focus and begin concentrating on the best way to manage your family’s food allergies. And, although you don’t need to become (nor are you expected to be) an expert overnight, with a few simple steps you should be able to have things well in hand in no time.
Step 1: Food Labels
Learning to read food labels and understand labeling laws is one of the most important steps in keeping your food allergic child safe. Labeling laws vary by country and you’ll want to know what is required of manufacturers so you can become an informed reader. For example, in the United States cross-contamination statements are voluntary but manufacturers are obligated to list allergens directly rather than under associated names such as casein milk or tahini for sesame seeds. Download ContentChecked’s app to assist and reassure you as you learn. Encourage anyone who buys food for your child (parents, grandparents, babysitters, nannies...) to use the app as well. For more information, see “Food Allergies and Food Labels: What You Need to Know” on my blog, Allergy Shmallergy.
Step 2: Emergency Medication
Familiarize yourself with how and when to use your epinephrine autoinjector. I cannot underscore the importance of this step enough. Use the trainer. Read the instructions or watch instructional videos online. Timing, placement, and technique matter – as does how to store your epinephrine. And require the same training of everyone that takes care of your child.
Step 3: Establish a System for Your House
Label all the food in your pantry that is safe for your food allergic child. Sounds crazy and time consuming, I know. But, it’s ultimately a time-saving step. Before I began labeling my own pantry, I would read and reread ingredient lists. And, then my husband would read and reread those same labels. And, so would the babysitter, and my mother, etc. Once the foods are labeled, there’s no question which items are safe and which are not. It puts everyone on the same page and will give you peace of mind when someone else is in charge in your house. If you want to see how I did do it, check out “Food Labels” on my blog.
Step 4: Find support.
In addition to friends and family members, you need to speak with someone who understands what you’re dealing with; someone who has been in your shoes. It helps to read blogs like this one as well as Allergy Shmallergy, EpiFamily, and Easy Breezy Life. Additionally, see if there are a few other parents at school who have food allergic children. Maybe they might want to swap recipes and share insight. Also, check to see if there’s a local support group in your area.
Living with food allergies can feel overwhelming initially. We all remember those first few weeks of confusion. By starting with the steps above, you’ll feel more and more confident each day and managing your family’s food allergies will soon be a breeze.
Erin Malawer, Allergy Shmallergy