Avoiding food allergies at holiday seasons

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The holidays can be a stressful time for all of us, but for the parents of children with food allergies, they can be nerve-racking.

If you think about it, starting at Halloween through Thanksgiving and even into Valentine's Day, most celebrations in the fall and winter involve food. The more children with allergies are exposed, the higher their risk of reaction.

For instance, 11-year-old Zach Churchill. Before he goes to a class party, he has to plan and pack his own snacks.  Zach has severe allergies and, with the wrong food, even a small bite can cause big  problems.

"Actually, just yesterday I had an issue with that. I bit into an egg roll, and even though I'm technically OK with eggs, I just never know and I had a little issue and all that," Zach's not alone. Nearly 6 million children have food allergies in the U.S. That's an average of about 2 per classroom.

"It is a particularly stressful time for our patients with food allergies, you know, we stress being prepared and having a plan in place for how to deal with those surprises," Dr. B.J. Lanser is an Allergist at National Jewish Health in Denver who has four simple tips to avoid holiday hazards.

First and foremost, don't go anywhere without epinephrine and never eat anything you are not 100 percent sure is safe.

"It's the only lifesaving medicine we have for anaphylaxis and so any time we could come in contact with something we're allergic to, we need to have the epinephrine available." Lanser said.

If you're invited to a party, RSVP ASAP. Make sure you talk to the host early on about safe foods for your child. Or, if possible, volunteer to host the party yourself - and have others bring non-food items.

"Asking guests to bring paper goods or games or craft projects instead of bringing the food, so that you can control what the children with food allergies might eat."

Finally, whether you're hosting or attending a party, make sure food labels are available.  While most of us like to make an impression with our dishes -  keeping the original packaging can provide parents valuable information and some peace of mind.

"Our patients and their parents become very good at reading labels and looking for those details," Lanswer said. "Keeping it in the original packaging and keeping the original label is a good idea so that they can review it."

For parties with a lot of people, it's also a good idea for adults to take shifts watching young children with allergies, just to make sure they're not eating something that could cause a reaction.

Since the late 1990s food allergies in children have shot up approximately 50%.