When she tried scrambled egg for the first time, my daughter’s face broke out in huge hives. When she went trick-or-treating the first time at 2 years old, she got hives all over her body. By then, we knew; we have a food-allergic child. We were extremely lucky that those first reactions were not significantly worse, because we now know she can easily have a fatal exposure.
The “big” eight triggers for food allergies are eggs, wheat, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, fish and shellfish. But people can be allergic to other foods, too. Each person’s reaction may be different. Some may have extreme reactions (anaphylaxis) or milder reactions, like hives. As the parent of a food-allergic child, I can assure you that it is very scary. Your child is moving through a world where any unknown or casual ingestion could mean a trip to the emergency room or worse.
In addition to this daily fear, there is the sadness that comes with being excluded or even bullied for having food allergies. Boys in my daughter’s fifth grade class taunted her that they were going to smear peanut butter on her desk. Just this summer at a sleepover, her group of friends chose to order out from a restaurant that serves food she can’t have.
So, I asked my daughter, how could someone be a good friend to someone with food allergies? This is what she says:
- It’s about basic respect. Never underestimate or brush off how life-threatening a food allergy can potentially be.
- Ask me about my allergies. If you’re not sure how serious the allergy is or what might trigger it, just ask.
- Eat what you want, just not around me. Waiting to eat the food that causes an allergy to someone for when you aren’t around that person shouldn’t be a big ask. Don’t leave the food allergic person out. They might wish they could eat ice cream or sushi, but since they can’t, please put some effort into finding choices that work for everyone.
- A food allergy may be more far-reaching than you might think. If you have a food allergy, it’s not just what you eat. The allergen can be in beauty products, vitamins or even your pet’s food. Food-allergic people have to check everything all the time.
- Remember that rejection isn’t personal. Sometimes people offer treats or snacks without considering the allergic person. Just as you might feel bad when you realize you’ve excluded the allergic person, he or she may feel bad about rejecting your gift. An alternative for the allergic person is always thoughtful.
- Be allergy-friendly by providing commercially made foods. These food producers are required by law to list any of the main eight allergens in the product on the label. Allergic people often know what they can’t have with mainstream foods, but homemade foods may have problem ingredients. If you’re providing homemade food, be sure you have a list of all the ingredients available.
- Know where to find my epi-pen. If an allergic person has a severe reaction, he or she might not be able to talk or use the medicine. If you have a friend who has food allergies, ask where he or she keeps the medicine. In an emergency, don’t be afraid to use it.
As the mom of a young woman with multiple food allergies, I’m grateful for the friends, parents, teachers, scout leaders and camp counselors who have looked after her over the years and have taken this condition seriously. Food allergies are scary, but they are manageable, especially with a little help from your friends.