Food Allergies: What you can do to keep kids safe

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- At just 17 months old, Otto Enderle is stealing hearts. Football in hand, dressed in blue, white and gray, this momma's boy is prepping to take Matthew Stafford's spot.

The only problem? The Lion's mini-me is allergic to a lot of the foods that football players eat to get big and strong: peanuts, tree nuts, egg, wheat, pork, milk and cheese.

That's a reality thousands of kids face, forcing families like the Enderles into keeping EpiPens at the ready.

Food allergies are actually pretty common: according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, four to six percent of kids have them. While allergies differ, many are life-threatening.

Take Otto for example. Just one peanut could end his life.

"I always have the EpiPen with me," Jane Enderle said. "I can’t allow people to kiss him, because if they’ve eaten something with wheat in it, he’s getting a rash."

Jane first noticed something was wrong with Otto about a year ago. The boy had severe eczema, always red and itchy.

Otto Enderle with a rash

Otto Enderle with a rash

According to Dr. Ted Kelbel, a pediatric allergist and immunologist section chief at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital, signs of a food allergy reaction can be mild to severe, including hives, swelling, a little red rash around the face, difficulty breathing, vomiting, diarrhea, throat swelling, and low blood pressure. The number of children with these symptoms has risen drastically in the past 20 years, now affecting one in every 13 kids, says Kelbel.

That's why Dr. Kelbel and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious diseases recommend that infants at risk of developing a peanut allergy have peanut-containing foods introduced into their diets as early as four to six months of age.

"If they’re not allergic, then we’d say they need to eat peanut regularly in their diet, probably at least three times a week at two grams per serving," Kelbel said.

(Left) Ted Kelbel, pediatric allergist at Helen DeVos Children's Hosptial. (Right) Otto Enderle and his mom, Jane.

(Left) Ted Kelbel, pediatric allergist, immunologist section chief at Helen DeVos Children's Hosptial. (Right) Otto Enderle and his mom, Jane.

"We call this primary prevention, when we’re able to prevent a problem before it starts," said Kelbel, "and it’s really exciting, because we currently have no cures or other long-term therapies for peanut allergy."

Unfortunately, for Otto it's too late. His mom says he's already too allergic to peanuts to go through this process, which means he will likely be allergic to peanuts his entire life.

"I feel like I need to ask everybody if you’ve ate peanuts -- if you’ve had peanuts in your hand -- don’t touch my son," Jane said.

If your child's tongue feels like it's tingling or burning, their mouth itches, feels full or heavy, get them to a doctor right away.

Even if only mild symptoms are present, experts recommend using an EpiPen as soon as possible, because you never know when a reaction will become life-threatening.

EpiPens

EpiPens

"EpiPens are really the perfect anecdote to a severe allergic reaction," Kelbel said. "Things like antihistamines and steroids don’t work in the way epinephrine does."

If you're worried your kid might have a food allergy, ask your doctor about oral food challenges, where a doctor will feed your child a tiny bit of food and slowly increase amounts to see if they're allergic or not.

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