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How to take action when kids have food allergies

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The recent death of a child with an apparent allergic reaction to a peanut underscores the importance of having a complete food allergy emergency plan in place to meet unforeseen challenges.

Such a plan would provide a safety net for those children and adolescents in school who are at risk of having an allergic reaction to a food.  

Related: Girl dies after friend gives her peanut on playground

It has been recently reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that food allergies are becoming more prevalent in our country with a 20 percent increase over the past 10 years.  It is estimated that six to eight percent of children under the age of 18 have a bonafide food allergy.  That is why getting the diagnosis correct and confirmed is essential. Having a trifold program of avoidance, patient education and of course, emergency preparedness is firmly in place.  

Here is some important advice for parents and caregivers of food-allergic children:

• Have a plan. After confirmation of the diagnosis, a food allergy action plan should be prepared by the allergist for exact written instructions of how to proceed if a child is having an allergic reaction.  Portable injectable epinephrine autoinjectors need to be prescribed and carried by those individuals with a confirmed food allergy.  

• Know the drill. A food-allergic child can be his or her own best advocate -- from kindergarten through college. Parents should educate their child early so they are fully aware of what the child is allergic to, and they should also educate teachers, cafeteria staff and friends. In addition, it's important for children to know the symptoms of a severe allergic reaction, such as shortness of breath and hives, and have key people to turn to (including school nurses, teachers, coaches and friends) in an emergency.

• Be a label detective. Learn how to interpret and "decode" food labels for hidden ingredients that may wreak havoc if a child has a food allergy.  Cross-contamination of cooking surfaces, utensils and cookware can pose a danger, especially if it's not communicated to cafeteria and restaurant staff. Preparing a "food allergen ingredient card" for the chef and kitchen staff in order to ensure a safe dining experience can help.  

• Make time to meet. Parents and caregivers should schedule a pre-meeting with school officials to educate them on their child's needs as well talk to their local allergist.  Also, it is helpful to stay up to-date on the latest in food allergy management by joining organizations like the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network and the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology , as well as parenting support groups that offer great resources and information.

Dr. Clifford Bassett is the medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of NY. He is on the Public Education committee and a fellow of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, & Clinical Assistant Professor NYU School of Medicine and SUNY/LICH.