When someone is first diagnosed with a food allergy, it is paralyzing. There is seemingly no end to the list of questions flying through your head. Your doctor can provide many of the answers you need, but your doctor is not on call 24 hours a day. Besides, we have found it best to gather information from a variety of informed sources. Where food allergies are concerned, you often get the best answers from parents who have been living with them for years.

Here are a few questions many people have asked us.
What do I do now?
There is a lot you can and should do. Please see Checklist for the Newly Diagnosed

What can I eat?
That depends on what you are allergic to. At first, don't eat anything unless it is packaged and contains an ingredients label. This means you need to avoid restaurants until you understand all the many ways food allergens can end up in your food. Stock your house with foods that are free of your allergens. Please be sure to do the following checklist items as soon as possible:

Where can I shop?
Regular grocery stores are fine! FALCPA has made labels much easier for food allergic consumers to decipher. Although it's not perfect, it is a big step in the right direction. The more appropriate question to ask is...

How do I shop for allergen-safe foods?
Read the label of every food item, every time you buy it. Also, understand what the FDA requires food manufacturers to disclose on their labels (FALCPA) as well as what is optional to disclose.

Can I trust what the food labels say at the grocery store?
This is a very important question, and it simply cannot be answered briefly. In general, food labels are very good about disclosing whether a food actually contains one of the Top 8 Food Allergens; this is a requirement of FALCPA.

Some labels disclose whether a food has had exposure to one of the top 8 food allergens, and others do not. This is because FALCPA specifically deals with a food's actual ingredients. It does not provide guidelines for how manufacturers should disclose the possibility of inadvertent exposure to allergens. Any language you see on a food label pertaining to exposure to allergens is optional and not currently mandated by the FDA – which means that not every food manufacturer is doing it. We think this is a big deal and is something you must understand. Food labels will NOT protect you if you don't know what they are required to state and what is optional.

If you haven't done so already, please read Checklist item 7.

Do I have to throw out all of the food in my house and buy different things?
Hopefully not. But you do have to read all labels all the time and (1) avoid buying foods that pose a threat to you and (2) throw away anything already in your house that either contains or was exposed to your allergens. See Checklist Item #6 for more detail.

Can I eat at a restaurant ever again?
Hopefully so! But it will take more effort than it used to; how much more effort depends on how many allergies you have. Trying to avoid one allergen is more simple than trying to avoid multiple allergens. If you read through our Checklist for the Newly Diagnosed you have a good idea of how difficult it is to avoid accidental exposure even at home. Please make sure you have plenty of experience managing your food allergies at home before you eat out again.

If you or your child has food allergies, we would like to encourage you to prepare your own food as much as possible. This really is the best way to avoid your allergens. When we eat out as a family, we often bring our food-allergic daughter's food with us. Restaurants rarely protest – if they do, then leave.

When you do eat out, remember that communication is key to minimizing your chance of exposure. Talk to the waiter or manager and work with them patiently to find items that are safe for you on the menu.

No matter how much experience you have with managing your food allergies, always have your epinephrine with you in case you accidentally consume your allergen.

Please see Checklist Item #9 for more detail.

How do I protect my food-allergic child at school?
Communication is the key. Meet with the school or district nurse before your child starts school and come up with a plan for keeping your child as safe as possible. Please see Checklist Item #2 for more detail.

A big part of keeping your child safe while they are away from you is educating them about their allergies so that they know how to minimize the chance of exposure. Again, communication is the key. Please see Checklist Items #2 and #10 for more detail.

You must educate yourself about living safely with food allergies in order to educate your child and their school. Be sure to visit our Food Allergy Resource Links for other websites you might find helpful for continuing education.

How do I know if my child is having an allergic reaction?
It is imperative that you Know the Symptoms of an Allergic Reaction.

What should I do if my child has an allergic reaction to something they ate?
You absolutely must know the answer to this question before an allergic reaction occurs. Talk to your child's allergist about whether you should carry epinephrine and what exact steps you should follow when you think your child is having an allergic reaction. The time to decide what to do in an emergency is before the emergency occurs.

What are the best resources on the internet for finding answers to more of my questions?
An entire section of our website is devoted to this question, because we know that we don't have all the answers. Even among parents of food allergic children, you will find a wide range of opinions and best practices. There is no such thing as being over-informed about this subject matter. Get answers anywhere you can and eventually, you will formulate a plan that you're comfortable living with.

Please see Food Allergy Resource Links for other websites we have found helpful in our quest for answers to food allergy questions.


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