It's never too early to teach your children about their food allergies. Understanding and managing food allergies are essential life skills that kids need to learn about and constantly practice, in the same way they learn their alphabet or how to look both ways before crossing the street. Food allergies should not be kept a secret or whispered about. It's a fact of life for our children, and we must equip them appropriately.
While food allergies are a very serious topic, it's important to make learning about them a fun and interactive process so that the kids feel comfortable asking questions and talking about their allergies. Here are some ideas on how to introduce food allergies to a child in a fun and playful way.
My toddler loves puzzles and sorting games, so I created a game for us to play together that could help him learn which foods are safe for him to eat. It's a simple concept that can easily be tailored to suit your family's needs.
I created a series of flash cards with pictures of different recognizable foods and made three color-coded labeled bins: green for "Safe," red for "Do Not Eat - Food Allergy," and yellow for "Ask Questions." The game is pretty basic and the rules change each time we play. When I hold up a card, I ask him to name the food and place the card into one of the categories. Some foods are obvious, like bananas, apples, cheese and fish. The cards that would belong to the yellow "Ask Questions" category show images of things like a glass of chocolate "milk" where he would be required to verify whether it was cow's milk or soy or rice. On days where he needs more movement to keep his attention I add an activity layer to the game. For example, every time he gets the answer right, he earns the right to throw a green, red or yellow ball or pom pom into the bin (like basketball) or zoom a green, red or yellow car down a ramp. The possibilities are endless.
Role playing is a fun way to prepare your child to manage different situations independently. A friend of mine role plays restaurant scenes with her child. She pretends to be a server at a restaurant and her child with multiple food allergies practices telling the server about his allergies, orders his food and asks all of the relevant questions.
Music is great way to teach your child about anything, because it is entertaining and repetitive. Although the food allergy genre is not very popular, there are a some excellent children's songs that teach important lessons about allergies, including:
- Kyle Dine: He is a great musician, performer and children's educator. We always have one of the his CD's playing in our car, and it has wonderful songs that help kids feel confident about their food allergies.
- Ooey, Ooey, Ooey Allergies! by The Wiggles
- The Allergy Song, by Recess
The following allergy themed books for children have been highly recommended to me by other moms:
- The Bugabees: Friends With Food Allergies covers the top eight allergens and has books for allergic children, as well as books for siblings and friends.
- Cody the Allergic Cow: A Children's Story of Milk Allergies, by Nicole Smith
- The No Biggie Bunch
- The Peanut Pickle: A Story About Peanut Allergy, by Jessica Jacobs
- The Peanut-Free Café, by Gloria Koster
If you have other ideas that you've used with your child, please share them in the comments below.
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In some studies, omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to lower the risk of developing allergies and to reduce symptoms. Look for them in fatty fish like salmon, as well as in nuts. The anti-inflammatory properties of those omega 3s is likely to thank for that allergy relief. The downside is that it takes quite a bit of omega 3 fatty acids to see even minimal benefit says Neil L. Kao, M.D., an allergist and clinical immunologist in practice in South Carolina. However, in cultures where people eat more fish and less meat all throughout their lives, overall asthma and allergy responses are less frequent, says Bielory. But "it's a whole culture," he points out, not the difference between having a tuna sandwich for lunch or a burger.
An apple a day doesn't exactly keep the pollen allergy away, but a powerful combo of compounds found in apples might help at least a little. Getting your recommended daily allowance of vitamin C may protect against both allergies and asthma, WebMD reports. And the antioxidant quercetin, found in the skin of apples (as well as in onions and tomatoes), has been linked with better lung function. Other good vitamin C sources include oranges, of course, but also more surprising picks like red peppers, strawberries and tomatoes, all of which contain a number of other nutrients essential to healthy living beyond simply allergy relief, says Bielory.
The famed resveratrol, the antioxidant in the skin of red grapes that gives red wine its good name, has anti-inflammatory powers that might reduce allergy symptoms, says Kao. In a 2007 study of children in Crete who follow a traditional Mediterranean diet, daily fruit intake including grapes, oranges, apples and tomatoes was linked with less frequent wheezing and nasal allergy symptoms, Time.com reported.
If your allergies present themselves as congestion or a mucus-y cough (sorry), consider turning to one of the tried-and-true sips to ease cold symptoms: a steamy drink. Warm liquids, whether it's hot tea or chicken soup, may help thin out mucus to ease congestion. Not to mention, it'll help you stay hydrated. Not in the mood for soup? Inhaling in a steam shower can do the trick, too, says Bielory.
Because some of the most common spring allergy triggers come from the same families of plants as various foods, certain fruits and veggies can cause what's called Oral Allergy Syndrome. Rather than sniffling or sneezing, these foods are likely to cause an itchy mouth or throat, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI). "Corn is a grass, wheat is a grass, rice is a grass," says Bielory, "so if you're allergic to grass you can have a cross-reactivity to foods." Celery, peaches, tomatoes and melons might cause problems for people allergic to grasses, according to the AAAAI, and bananas, cucumbers, melons and zucchini can trigger symptoms in people with ragweed allergies. Typically, allergists will go over lists of families of plants with patients so you'll know what to avoid at the grocery store, says Bielory.
Ever bit into a spicy dish and felt it all the way in your sinuses? Capsaicin, the compound that gives hot peppers their kick, really does trigger allergy-like symptoms. You nose might run, your eyes could water, you may even sneeze, says Kao. These reactions occur via a different pathway than true allergies, says Bielory. But if spicy foods mimic your already bothersome symptoms, you might want to skip the jalapeños until you're in the clear.
Ever find your nose runny or stopped up after a drink or two? Alcohol causes blood vessels to dilate, the same process that gives your cheeks that rosy flush, and might make allergy sniffles feel worse. The effect changes from person to person says Kao, but if you're already feeling sneezy before happy hour, it might be a good idea to take it easy, since having allergies may increase your likelihood for alcohol-induced sniffles, according to a 2005 study. There's also some naturally-occurring histamine in alcohol, made during the fermentation process. Depending on how your body processes it, this could also lead to more allergy-like symptoms after drinking, the New York Times reported.
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