Knowledge and know-how is critical when babysitting babies and children with food allergies and intolerances. We’ll provide you with some general information about common food allergies, symptoms of an allergic reaction, and how some prevent exposure to an allergen. It’s up to you to talk with parents before agreeing to babysit to create a food allergy plan that everyone feels comfortable with.
Common Food Allergies in Children and Babies
For reasons not entirely understood, food allergies are more common and more deadly than ever before. When someone has a food allergy, the body reacts to exposure to the food by releasing chemicals, including histamine. These chemicals trigger allergic symptoms that can be life threatening, including Anaphylaxis shock.
According to experts, milk, eggs, wheat, soy, tree nuts, fish, shellfish and peanuts cause approximately 90 percent of food allergies. Peanuts, fish and shellfish tend to cause the most severe reactions.
According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, it does not take much of a food to cause a reaction in a highly allergic person. For instance, as little as 1/44,000 of a peanut kernel can cause an allergic reaction in kids with peanut allergies.
Unlike allergies, food intolerances do not affect the immune system and are not life threatening, but can produce some of the same symptoms as an allergy. Common food intolerances include milk and soy. Lactose intolerance in children, often mistaken for an allergy but in actuality a digestive problem, occurs when children can’t digest lactose, the sugar contained in dairy products. It can produce unwanted, uncomfortable symptoms, such as fussiness in babies, stomach pains and diarrhea.
Symptoms of an Allergic Reaction
Be on the lookout for any of these symptoms, which can appear alone or with other symptoms, and can appear within minutes to two hours after a child has ingested or even just come in contact with an offending food:
- Itching or swelling of the lips, tongue, or mouth
- Difficulty breathing
- Lowered blood pressure
The most serious allergic reaction is anaphylaxis. What is anaphylaxis, sometimes known as anaphylaxis shock? It’s a sudden, potentially life-threatening reaction that can involve swelling of the airway, difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness, and sometimes even death. It requires immediate response.
How to Prevent an Allergic Reaction
There is no cure for a food allergy. The only treatment is preventing a reaction by vigilantly avoiding the allergy-causing food and following an immediate treatment plan if a reaction occurs.
Here are some tips for helping kids stay clear of the foods they are allergic to:
- Carefully read the labels on any food you give the child. Also look to see if labels warn of the food being processed with equipment that may put it at risk for cross-contamination, and stay clear of those foods, too.
- Carefully read menus and talk with restaurant workers to ensure food choices are safe of allergens.
- If you are uncertain of a food, do not allow the child to eat it.
- Consult a medical professional for detailed advice.
Treatment for an Allergic Reaction
Talk with parents to understand the child’s Food Allergy Reaction Plan. You should be aware of the allergy causing foods, rules for avoiding the food, and the plan if a reaction should occur. If they do not have an easy-to-follow plan, you may suggest using a free, printable plan like this one or consult a medical professional.
Drugs are often used to help lessen or prevent symptoms of a reaction, and are typically a key component in reaction plans. Anti-histamines (such as Benadryl) are often used to treat mild systems, and epinephrine is often prescribed to treat severe reactions. If the child you are babysitting has been prescribed epinephrine for anaphylaxis – often as an auto-injectable pen (such as EpiPen), be sure you understand how to administer it and carry it with you at all times. Auto-injector “trainers” (a device similar to an auto-injector, but containing no needle or medication) are available for you to practice with. With any allergic reaction, if multiple symptoms occur or any symptom becomes severe, an immediate call to 911 is imperative.
Babysitting kids with food allergies is a big responsibility, but one that is manageable with the appropriate knowledge and planning. For more information on food allergies, reactions and prevention, see www.foodallergy.org or consult a medical professional.