Food allergies are abnormal reactions to a food by our immune system, and they can affect both children and adults of any age or ethnicity. For most parents, food allergies are high on the list of concerns, and for good reason: food allergies are on the rise. In fact, their incidence has increased in children approximately 50% between 1997 to 2011, affecting nearly 2 students in every classroom. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 15 million Americans suffer from food allergies. Nearly every 3 minutes a person is sent to the emergency room because of an adverse reaction to something they've eaten, resulting in over 200,000 visits per year.

While many situations will simply lead to sneezing or an itchy rash, in some cases anaphylaxis can occur. Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can lead to death if it is not treated in time. Teenagers and young adults are the people most at risk for fatal food-induced anaphylaxis, especially if they also suffer from asthma. The risk for developing food allergies increases if one or both of the parents has an allergic condition, as well. It's important for families to understand what allergies are and to be aware of what causes them. 

1. Consult with your pediatrician.

Allergies are a nuisance but they can also be life-threatening. If you suspect someone in your family may have a food allergy, talk to your doctor and have them run the necessary tests.

2. Know the difference between allergies and intolerance.

Allergies involve our immune system, while intolerance (i.e., lactose intolerance) does not, even if the symptoms are similar. Only 5% of children have clinically identified food allergies, and only your doctor can determine this with certainty.

3. Identify which foods are the allergens.

Eight foods account for 90% of all reactions. These include milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish. Knowing which foods are a problem is the first step toward protecting your child.

4. Avoid foods that are allergens.

Once foods are identified as allergens, it become vitally important to avoid them as much as possible. This includes in and out of the home, especially at school and when traveling.

5. Carry an epi pen.

Epinephrine can be the difference between life and death. If someone in your family has food allergies, consult with your pediatrician to find out if you should have an epi pen on hand at all times.

6. Be vigilant.

Living with allergies requires constant vigilance, which means reading food labels and making sure others are aware of your child's condition. When eating out, ask questions about how food is prepared and what ingredients are being used.

7. Maintain contact.

When you are not present, make sure your child or their caregiver can always get in touch with you in the event of an emergency.

8. Have your child carry emergency contact information.

Program the phone number of your child's pediatrician as well as parental contact information into their cell phones or have them carry this information on a piece of paper.

9. Know about latency.

Anaphylaxis can occur after the initial symptoms subside, so doctors recommend that a patient be observed for four hours to ensure a safe recovery.

10. Talk to teachers and caregivers.

If your child suffers from food allergies, it is important for adults who supervise them to know about the potential dangers and how to avoid them, as well as the proper response in the event of an emergency.

If you think your child is suffering from an allergic reaction, get them to their doctor immediately. If you have questions or concerns about food allergies, talk to your pediatrician or visit the website for the CDC.