#808moms: When it comes to allergies, the signs aren’t always clear

epipen2You might think food allergies are easy to spot in kids. And sometimes, especially with the most severe reactions, they are.

But my coworker Renee Oshiro learned the hard way that sometimes you can miss small signs of food allergies. And that means you might not be prepared when a big attack hits.

Renee first learned her son, Dylan, had a severe cashew and peanut allergy when he was 5. He tried a small lick of cashew dip and “reacted weird. I didn’t know why. When I took him to an allergist, he said that was anaphylactic shock and that we were lucky,” she said.

The allergist stressed that anaphylaxis can be fatal. After further testing, it turned out Dylan was most allergic to peanuts and cashews and mildly allergic to eggs and sunflower seeds.

Hindsight is 20/20, and looking back, Renee realized that Dylan, now 12, had been showing signs of food allergies before having his bad reaction to cashew dip.

As a young child, she said, Dylan would eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and then occasionally suffer from eczema. And once, he started itching after touching sunflower seeds.

Renee didn’t think to mention the incidents to her son’s doctor because the symptoms disappeared quickly. She advises parents, “If you see telltale rashes after being exposed to something or if your child’s face or lips are slightly swollen, tell your doctor right away and get an appointment with an allergist if possible,” she said. “A mild allergy could mean your child is allergic to other things.”

She also said that if a child is having a severe reaction, seek immediate help.

People with known allergies should carry an EpiPen (epinephrine) in case of a severe attack. And be sure to have a plan of action when it comes to your child’s school. Talk to your child’s teacher and the school health office, and tell your child what to do in an emergency.

If your child attends a public school, you’ll be asked to fill out a form in order to store emergency rescue medication at the school.


Dylan, 12, poses for the camera at an athletic event. Dylan is allergic to cashews and peanuts, and carries an EpiPen.

Since Dylan’s bad reaction to cashew dip, Renee has kept his EpiPen close in case of emergency. Luckily, she hasn’t had to use it. But she knows it’s within reach if he needs it.

Dylan’s most recent allergic reaction was not as severe, and happened when he was at soccer practice. His lips were swollen and itchy, and someone realized that the chili the team shared had a little bit of peanut butter in it.

“I’m just thankful that he’s not had to use his EpiPen yet, but I feel reassured knowing we always have one that is right there to use when I need it,” she said. “Most children grow out of allergies, but peanuts and other serious food allergies may follow him for life. It’s a bit time consuming, but we usually look at all labels to be sure there is no allergens in what he’s eating.

“I’ll have to ask when we eat out and sometimes he’ll eat something and think he knows the recipe but a surprise ingredient will trigger a reaction. I’m just thankful that we know what’s wrong, so it’s always good to ask a doctor and don’t be shy about discussing something that doesn’t seem right.”

What to watch out for

Food labels must list eight foods that cause 90 percent of all food-related allergic reactions. These foods are:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Crustacean shellfish (e.g., crab, lobster, shrimp)
  • Tree nuts (e.g., almonds, walnuts, pecans)
  • Peanuts
  • Wheat
  • Soybeans

Signs of an allergic reaction

  • Hives
  • Flushed skin or rash
  • Tingling or itchy mouth
  • Face, tongue, or lip swelling
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Coughing, wheezing
  • Dizziness and/or lightheadedness
  • Swelling of the throat and vocal cords
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loss of consciousness

If you suspect your child might be allergic to something, talk to your child’s doctor. Sometimes a mild allergy can get worse.

To learn more about the symptoms and common causes of anaphylaxis, visit the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

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