Dancers with Food Allergies: What You Should Know

Food allergies are a serious concern, and there are dancers and ballerinas out there with unpredictable reactions to foods. Dance moms and teachers need to be aware of allergies, reactions and what to do in a situation should a dancer begin to react to food.

We spoke with Nancy Giles of Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) about how to keep our dancers safe and healthy!

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Photo: Fooducate.com and Blisstree.com

What are the most common allergies found in children?

The most common food allergens in children are milk, egg, wheat and soy. Additionally, studies show that there has been a tripling in peanut allergy among children between 1997 and 2008.

Why can food allergies be scary?

Food allergies are a serious and growing public health concern. They are scary because food allergy reactions are unpredictable – symptoms can be mild, but they can be severe and potentially fatal too.

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What should teachers know about food allergies?

Teachers, as well as anyone tasked with a caring for a child with food allergies, should understand that food allergies are potentially life-threatening. Parents of students with food allergies should set aside time to ensure that teachers understand how to care for kids with food allergies and to go over the child’s Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Emergency Care Plan (you may download one at www.foodallergy.org). This should include, at a minimum, going over food allergy basics, knowing what foods are safe, and training on the use of an epinephrine auto-injector.

What can be done if a child starts reacting to food?

Follow the instructions on the child’s Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Emergency Care Plan – this may involve administering epinephrine and calling 911. Be prepared to act quickly, because seconds count in anaphylactic emergencies.

What are important factoids we should be aware of or memorize as educators working with children?

Remember that food allergy reactions are unpredictable. Trace amounts of an allergen can cause a serious reaction such as an anaphylaxis (a whole-body allergic reaction). And remember that anaphylaxis can progress rapidly, and may not always present with skin symptoms. Always read labels.

There are many birthday parties at dance schools. How can we help create a positive celebratory environment for kids while keeping in mind food allergies?

Above all, safety and inclusion should be the focus during celebrations and gatherings. If there are students with food allergies, learn which allergens are being avoided and make sure that none of the foods served during celebrations contains their allergens. If multiple food allergies are being avoided, consider having food-free celebrations. Playing games and handing out inexpensive trinkets can be just as fun. Use washable tattoos or stickers as rewards rather than candies.

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What are signs we should know about?

Teachers should familiarize themselves with symptoms of an allergic reaction. Students with food allergies should have a written plan (such as FARE’s Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Emergency Care Plan), signed by a physician, that outlines the allergens and treatment instructions for an allergic reaction.

Symptoms to Look For:

MILD-

  • Hives (reddish, swollen, itchy areas on the skin)
  • Eczema (a persistent dry, itchy rash)
  • Redness of the skin or around the eyes
  • Itchy mouth or ear canal
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • Nasal congestion or a runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Slight, dry cough
  • Odd taste in mouth
  • Uterine contractions

SEVERE-

  • Obstructive swelling of the lips, tongue, and/or throat
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Turning blue
  • Drop in blood pressure (feeling faint, confused, weak, passing out)
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Chest pain
  • A weak or “thread” pulse
  • Sense of “impending doom”

What advice do you have to parents of children with allergies?

Kids with food allergies can participate in any activity – in most cases, food allergies shouldn’t limit kids from doing what they love. Stay vigilant, always carry epinephrine, and read labels.

What advice do you have for teachers?

We would recommend that teachers educate themselves about basic food allergy facts and anaphylaxis. Understanding how to avoid the allergen, recognize symptoms and respond appropriately to reactions is key.

Anything else you would like parents and teachers to know?

Food allergies are not a lifestyle preference. Children don’t have a choice in the matter. Food allergy is a potentially life-threatening disease, and it’s important to ensure that we have empathy for kids with food allergies and don’t exclude them.

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