Food Allergy Tips From Dr. Mehmet Oz
Education and Advocacy Dr. Oz gives his advice on food allergies and how to stay clear of them this upcoming holiday.
Mediaplanet: With the holidays approaching, are there any precautionary practices you recommend to parents to keep their children safe at school, home, or when visiting friends and family?
Dr. OZ: It’s good to be extra careful around the holidays, because your child isn’t sticking to his or her normal schedule. Kids bring treats in for the classroom, and you go to a lot of holiday parties where you may not know what’s in the food. Before the holidays, remind your child’s teacher of the allergy so that it’s on his or her mind during classroom parties. Also, remind your child to be clear and assertive about his or her allergies – and to never feel bad about saying no to a food or beverage that is offered to him or her. And when you’re going to parties, if your child has a food allergy, don’t feel shy about bringing your own dish for your kid. It’s harder for someone to ensure that no dish has come into contact with an allergen when they’re making so much food for so many people. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
MP: Are there any proven methods to prevent the development of childhood food allergies?
OZ: Research in this area is still developing. But recent evidence has shown that kids seem to be less likely to develop an allergy if they’re exposed to a food early on. You can introduce highly allergenic foods to your baby between 4 and 6 months of age, just as you’d introduce any other solid foods. These include dairy products such as cheese, yogurt or cow’s milk protein formula, egg, soy, wheat, peanut and tree nuts in a form of butter or paste, fish and shellfish. Research has shown that delaying the introduction of these foods may increase your baby’s risk of developing allergies to these foods.
MP: It has been said there is an increase in children’s food allergies every year. Do you believe food allergies are on the rise? Or do you think we are just hearing about them more frequently now?
OZ: The most recent estimates from Canada found that about 7.5 percent of the population has a food allergy, but more research is needed to figure out if the number is growing. Overall, though, food allergies seem to be on the rise in developed countries, but the reason why is not clear. Research is ongoing to figure out why.
MP: How can parents educate their children and teachers about allergies and reactions at school?
OZ: Managing your child’s allergy at school will be a team effort. This team will involve many people including, teachers, administrators, cafeteria staff, coaches, other parents, and even your child’s classmates. With the help of your child’s pediatrician or allergist put together a one-page Anaphylaxis Emergency Plan. In elementary schools, your child’s principal and/or teacher are responsible for alerting other school staff to your child’s allergy, so share the plan with them and check in to make sure they’ve informed other staff. It’s also important to talk to your child’s friends’ parents. Talk them through what your child needs to avoid, what foods it’s found in, and how to respond if he or she has a reaction.
MP: Is it possible for children to outgrow their food allergy(ies)?
OZ: In Canada, over 300,000 children are affected by food allergy. Some food allergies can be outgrown, but others will be lifelong. The exact reason still remains a mystery, but we know the body can stop reacting to the specific allergen in some people with specific allergies.. Kids with peanut and tree nut allergies tend not to outgrow their allergies to the same degree, with about 80 percent of these lasting into adulthood.
MP: How can we recognize signs of an allergic reaction before it becomes serious? What steps can parents and children take to remedy the situation?
OZ: In most cases, allergy symptoms will not be life-threatening, and include watery eyes, a runny nose or a rash. Keep an eye out for these signs, because it’s important to recognize an allergy before your child is exposed again. The next reaction is usually worse. If a child has a severe allergy, the reaction can be serious at the first exposure. This reaction is called anaphylaxis. Symptoms occur suddenly and can progress quickly. The first signs of anaphylactic shock include trouble breathing, sweating and feeling faint. If this happens for at least a minute and isn’t getting better, call 911. If you’re already aware of the allergy, administer your child’s EpiPen.
MP: How can I know which foods contain culprit allergens?
OZ: The good news is food labels in Canada are required to declare if a product has a priority allergen as outlined by Health Canada. So if your child’s allergic to milk, you don’t have to look out for all the different types of milk product, like whey or casein. At the end of the ingredient list, look for a ‘contains’ and/or “may contain,” and then the allergen, like milk, egg or peanuts. If you’re eating at a restaurant, always ask whether the dish is made with the allergen or if there’s a potential for cross-contamination. Even foods you might not think have the allergen may contain even a small amount that can trigger a reaction.
Accredited health expert, best-selling author, and world-renowned cardiac surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of the eight-time Daytime Emmy® Award-winning series THE DR. OZ SHOW, which airs weekdays at 2 p.m. ET on CTV.