Some help in dealing with food allergies

Margaret Sova McCabe and son Tommie at home in 2008 in Sanbornton, N.H., with some packages of food that contain food content warnings. Food allergies can turn mealtime into a real puzzler. (AP Photo / Jim Cole)

Food allergies in kids are on the rise – and so is the emotional toll they can take on parents. A recent survey by the Food Allergy Network found that 62 percent of parents felt fearful and 50 percent felt frustrated about a food allergy’s effects on their child. Over 40 percent said their kid had to skip restaurant outings, visits to friends’ homes, birthday parties and sleepovers due to concerns about dangerous or even life-threatening reactions to the foods he or she might encounter.

They also felt isolated – most said their child knew just one or two other kids with food allergies. If that’s you, or a parent you know, there’s a smart online community of fellow parents waiting to help with emotional support, allergy-free recipes and practical solutions for all sorts of allergy-related challenges – and it’s just a click away.  The Kids With Food Allergies Foundation, based in Doylestown, Pa., has 28,000 members, a serious panel of medical advisors and a lively and diverse set of online forums (topics range from “Asthma, Eczema and Gastroesophageal Reflux (GERD)” to “Children on No Foods or Few Foods” to “Birthdays and Special Celebrations on Restricted Diets”.

“If you post a question, you’re going to have five or six answers in just a few hours,” says founder Lynda Mitchell. Based in Bucks County, KFA is the nation’s largest and oldest online community for families with food allergies, she says.

The group started out as a listserv in 1998, to connect parents of kids with food allergies when Mitchell was dealing with her son’s food restrictions. “As a baby, he was allergic to every baby formula out there by the age of 1,” she says. “You can feel very isolated and overwhelmed as a parent. Once you get a diagnosis of a food allergy, your family’s carefree, impulsive life goes out the window.  You’ve got a list of foods to avoid and are left trying to figure out what to do. The learning curve is steep. You spend half your time cooking. Everyday activities like school, camp, holidays and vacations suddenly need tremendous amounts of planning.”

In addition to advice from other parents, KFA has an extensive online library of expert-reviewed resources. Topics range from the latest research to sorting through allergy tests you do (and don’t) need to dealing with nitty-gritty issues that arise when your child’s got a food allergy. Examples: There’s advice for teens with allergies about kissing, a checklist parents can use when telling a new babysitter about a kid's food needs and suggestions for talking with a restaurant manager about food allergies before you sit down and much, much more.

 “Most people think of food as something that’s safe and healthy and nourishing, but for us food can be a minefield,” Mitchell says. “We want to take away the fear and isolation parents feel. When they can talk to each other, they learn how to handle situations, assess the risk and take measures to keep their child safe – so that everybody can finally settle down and enjoy themselves.”

How about you? Any stories or advice to share on food allergies in your family?