Growing up I didn't know of any friend who was allergic to food. However, as a parent I soon became aware of a number of children with food allergies, several so acute that I now routinely ask about food allergies prior to having any child in my care.

Food allergies in children have doubled in the past decade; one in every 13 children under the age of 18 has a food allergy, and among preschoolers the incidence is one in ten. More than one-third of children with food allergies are allergic to multiple foods. These numbers are alarming.

Research Trials on the Cause of Food Allergies

During a recent interview on NPR Dr. Kari Nadeau, a scientist at the forefront of food allergy research, shared that it is suspected that the reason food allergies has exploded is multifactorial. In other words, there is no single reason or simple answer. She is conducting clinical trials on desensitizing children who have multiple food allergies. The results look promising.

The most common food allergens are tree nuts, peanuts, milk, eggs, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish. These eight food sources account for 90% of food allergies. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require labeling on trace amounts (trace contaminants) up to 200 milligrams. 200 milligrams doesn't sound like a lot; it's roughly the equivalent of a peanut. But a parent of a child with a severe food allergy will tell you otherwise. 200 milligrams can throw a child into a severe reaction, anaphylactic shock, or worse. These trace amounts can kill.

Life-Saving Education 

Sarah, mom to a middle-school-aged son who was diagnosed with a severe milk allergy when being weaned from breast-feeding at a year old, lives with this knowledge. She has had to learn how to manage her son's food allergies. And she has done a remarkable job, effectively advocating for her son and other children who have food allergies — educating her son, faculty and staff, students, and parents of students about the basics of food allergies and how to manage them.

One-third of kids with food allergies are bullied. Sarah's son is not. Her openness has encouraged other parents of kids with food allergies to join in. Together they have educated adults and children about how critical reactions to food can be — ranging from itchy throats and skin reactions to stomachaches, burning tongues and signs of anaphylaxis. They have created a clear understanding of food allergy management and garnered strong support for kids with food allergies within the school population. My son is a close friend of her son and is hyper-vigilant and respectful about his friend's dietary restrictions. He is aware of what his friend cannot have and what is safe. He knows this because he has been taught.

Please, teach your child about the seriousness and life-threatening truths about food allergies. If you don't know, ask a parent who has a child with food allergies. What is inconvenient for you — for example, not having that food allergen in their presence or wiping your counters down before they visit your home — can be life threatening to another.