Nannies Need to Know About Peanut Allergies

Between 1997 and 2008 the number of children diagnosed with a peanut allergy more than tripled. This alarming trend, aside from creating a need for parents to be extra-vigilant about the foods their children are exposed to, has also made it necessary for nannies to educate themselves as thoroughly as possible on the subject. As the number of afflicted children continues to rise, the likelihood of a nanny encountering at least one allergic child over the course of her career also grows stronger. In the interest of providing a quick peanut allergy primer, here are a few of the most important facts for nannies to keep in mind.

Peanuts Aren’t Really Nuts – Despite the name, peanuts aren’t really nuts at all. They’re actually legumes, which means that they’re part of the bean family. In some cases, those who suffer from a peanut allergy may also be allergic to other substances in the legume family. Be sure that you exercise extreme caution when allowing a charge with peanut allergies to eat any legumes, even if they’ve never had a reaction before. Though they’re likely to continue eating such foods without incident, you can never be too vigilant when it comes to food allergies.
Learn to Recognize the Signs of Exposure – Reactions to peanut exposure in allergic kids can run the gamut of symptoms. After eating or even coming into contact with peanuts, allergic kids may begin to form rashes or hives, have gastrointestinal reactions including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, suffer from respiratory symptoms that include everything from sniffles to wheezing and difficulty breathing, and cardiovascular symptoms that cause the sufferer to feel faint or lightheaded. Being able to recognize these symptoms quickly is essential to providing treatment in a timely manner.

Reactions Can Be Severe – Some reactions to peanut exposure can be relatively mild, only causing discomfort and irritation. In other cases, however, exposure can cause anaphylaxis, which is a very severe and potentially life-threatening reaction. Kids who are prone to or at risk for anaphylaxis should be monitored especially well to prevent a harmful or even fatal reaction to peanuts.

Keep a Close Eye on Labels – Caring for a child with peanut allergies means that you will have to read each and every label on any food item that your charge plans to eat. Labels that state that the package’s contents were processed in a facility that also processes nuts should be treated as if they contain whole peanuts; even a trace amount is enough to cause a serious reaction in kids with severe peanut allergies. This applies to lotions, shampoos, and other personal care products as well; peanuts and their byproducts can be lurking in some downright surprising places and products.

Take Extra Precautions in Restaurants –Taking kids with peanut allergies out to eat is a risky proposition, but it is also one that can be managed without incident as long as you exercise the right amount of caution. Before ordering a dish, request allergy information and inform your server that your charge has a severe peanut allergy. Because some restaurants use peanut oil for deep frying, it’s prudent to also ask about the type of cooking oil a restaurant uses.

Sharing Food is a Major No-No – Little ones love to share their food and trade lunches. However, very young and enthusiastic little ones may forget about their dietary restriction and accidentally take a bite of the PB&J his pal is having. The best way to avoid potential exposure through traded lunches and shared food is to institute a “no sharing” policy with meals. Explaining to your small charge that he can’t share food because some things make him sick can clear up some of the confusion he’s sure to feel when he’s instructed not to share something after being told repeatedly that he must share his toys.

Learn to Administer Epinephrine – Though you’ll hopefully never need it, you should have a working knowledge of epinephrine auto-injectors, including their proper use and correct storage. In the event of an anaphylactic episode, administering epinephrine while awaiting emergency medical attention may make the difference between a merely scary moment and a tragic one.

Though a study at Duke University and Arkansas Children’s Hospital indicated that immunotherapy might be effective in treating and even eliminating peanut allergies in some children, it is absolutely never recommended for parents or caregivers to attempt immunotherapy at home. Even minute traces of peanut oils or proteins can be very problematic for an allergic child; steer allergic kids clear of any product that might contain peanuts, and have a set plan of action for situations in which they may have been exposed to them.


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