Be positive when managing food allergies.
A diagnosis of celiac disease or other food allergy not only has an impact on a child’s immediate family but on those the child encounters at school, in social situations and when traveling. Parents and family members need to be well informed about the disease or food allergy, signs and symptoms of exposure to the allergen and how to manage an allergic reaction.
In the beginning, following a restrictive diet can be frustrating and life-changing. Adopting a positive attitude toward making the necessary dietary changes will improve one’s sense of well-being, as well as reduce the physical and emotional symptoms of the allergen on the body. It will take time, patience and a creative spirit to incorporate lifelong dietary changes.
A dietary change can be the beginning of a new adventure in cooking and can increase your knowledge of gluten-free and other allergy avoidance foods. Focusing on what you can eat will enable accepting a specific allergy or disease.
Celiac disease can appear in children in a variety of ways. A child may turn pale or be irritable. There can be a change in growth patterns such as weight loss or an enlarged belly. There may be foul-smelling, bulky loose stools or constipation, and an inability to absorb vital nutrients.
Celiac disease tends to run in families and can be more common in individuals who have type 1 diabetes, Down syndrome, Turner’s syndrome, Sjogren’s syndrome or thyroid disease. Long-term effects of untreated celiac disease include malnutrition and malabsorption of calcium and vitamin D, leading to rickets in kids. Lactose intolerance may occur. There is also a higher risk of bowel cancers.
Celiac disease or any other food allergy must have a definitive diagnosis before any dietary changes, including a gluten-free diet, are incorporated. To determine whether a child has celiac disease, blood should be tested for antibodies that indicate an immune reaction specifically to gluten. If this blood test is positive, a small bowel test, endoscopy, needs to be done to obtain a small tissue sample of the colon to determine damage to the villi (absorbing cells) of the intestine. Only after a positive test result should a child begin a gluten-free diet.
Many families are unsure how to begin the dietary changes necessary for their child’s disease. When the diagnosis of celiac disease is medically verified, your child’s health care provider should become your reference point. Your provider can give you information on celiac disease and refer you to a nutritionist specializing in celiac disease and food allergies. The nutritionist will help you select the appropriate gluten-free foods and teach you what to avoid and how to interpret nutrition labels, which is an important part of choosing the right foods in any restrictive diet. Your family may also need additional support from a mental health provider and a celiac support group.
As with any allergy to foods, medicines or environmental allergies, it’s imperative that everyone who takes care of your child — including relatives, friends, teachers and the school nurse — are aware of the emergency treatment plan, including administering an epinephrine pen. Your child should wear a medical alert bracelet, too. Kids with celiac will also need a daily vitamin that contains extra calcium and vitamin D.
You should inform children of any age about the foods that can be in the gluten-free diet instead of focusing on what they cannot eat. This positive approach may help kids adjust to a new and interesting selection of healthy foods that will make them feel better. Gluten-free foods are now more readily available in most grocery stores. There are many gluten-free cookbooks for kids and families.
The FDA nutrition facts label will help you select the most appropriate foods to maintain your child’s new dietary restrictions:
Always check the nutrition label before buying packaged foods. Remember that wheat-free does not automatically mean gluten-free. While a product may not contain wheat, it can still contain rye or barley in some form. If you have a question about whether a food contains gluten, contact the manufacturer directly.
A positive outlook on a dietary change will enable your child to develop and maintain a happy, outgoing viewpoint and see the change as just a bump in the road.
http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseasesconditions/ celiac-disease/basics/ definition/con-20030410
Jo Ann B. Serota, DNP, CPNP, FAANP, is a certified PNP and co-owner of Ambler Pediatrics, Blue Bell, PA. She is a Past President of NAPNAP and President of the NAPNAP Foundation.