Food Allergy 411 for Babysitters
Food allergies can be mysterious and confusing. And these days, it seems like everyone is allergic to something - especially small children and even babies. According to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), there are more than 2.2 million kids with food allergies in the United States alone!
As a babysitter, you’re bound to sit at least one kid who has a food allergy. But even though it may seem like a potentially scary sitch, there are a few easy steps ya can take to be the best babysitter you can be!
IF YOU DON’T KNOW, ASK
Usually, parents will let you know if their kid has any serious food allergies. But before they leave, any parents will appreciate you asking if their child has any allergies that you should be aware of. Even if the kid doesn’t have a problem, it’ll still score you lots of respect with the parents by showing how thoughtful you are of their kid’s safety. Plus, it’ll probably increase the likelihood that they’ll ask you back to baby-sit again. If the child does have an allergy and there is something you don’t know or understand, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. “It would also be a good idea to go to meet the child, with the parents, before the actual babysitting event is to take place,” FAAN CEO Julia E. Bradsher, Ph.D., M.B.A. says. “That way you can get all your questions answered ahead of time.”
WATCH WHAT YOU EAT
If the kid does have an allergy – to, say, peanuts – try to avoid eating foods with peanuts in them the day that you babysit. Sometimes allergic reactions can be triggered even by skin contact or inhalation of the allergen, a.k.a. the peanuts. If you’re absolutely craving a PB&J for lunch that day, “be sure not to share it [with the child],” Bradsher cautions. “It is also important to thoroughly wash your hands in warm soapy water after eating.” If you sometimes give the child a goodnight kiss on the cheek, also be sure to brush your teeth, because allergens can remain in your mouth up to five hours after brushing.
CHECK, CHECK, CHECK
If you feed the kid while the parents are out, always read the labels on the food boxes. If the food is from their own pantry, it’s most likely safe to eat, but it never hurts to check. When ordering delivery, such as pizza, always ask when you call if the allergen could have any contact with the food you’re ordering. Usually, though, the 'rents will clue you in to which restaurants are safe. Another option is to ask the parents to create a tray of “safe foods” for you to use while they are out, Bradsher recommends. “That way you can offer the child foods that the parents have selected ahead of time and will take away the guess work for you.”
KNOW THE SIGNS
So the little girl with the severe egg allergy you’re babysitting starts to complain of itchy palms and a tingling feeling in her mouth...is it the beginning a reaction? Most likely, yes. Those are some of the most commons symptoms of an allergic reaction, along with having a difficult time breathing, a swollen tongue and throat, hives, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps and loss of consciousness, according to the FAAN website. Symptoms can show up as fast as two minutes after contact with the allergen. If the child shows any of these symptoms, don’t panic. Instead, call 911 and then call the parents after immediately using an EpiPen®.
And EpiPen® is a yellow and gray plastic tube that looks like a pen, which is where it gets half of its name. The other half refers to the epinephrine that it injects when used. So, what is epinephrine? “The drug epinephrine reverses the severe allergic reaction and can be lifesaving,” Bradsher explains. The sooner you inject the epinephrine, the more it can help. Don’t be scared of learning how to use an EpiPen®, because using it in the case of an emergency could save the kid’s life. “Here at FAAN, we sometimes hear from girls and teens who are afraid to administer the epinephrine auto-injector to themselves, or others, during a reaction,” says Bradsher. “Fear of the unknown is normal; however, you cannot let it stop you from properly treating a reaction.” Bradsher notes that practice with a trainer EpiPen (ask the parents if they have one) is the best way to deal with the fear of using an auto-injector.
The three basic steps of using an EpiPen® are:
1. Pull the gray safety cap off of the back of the EpiPen®
2. With the black tip facing down, hold the EpiPen® firmly as you jab it (like you mean it) into the child’s outer thigh. (The EpiPen® even works through clothes, really!) Hold it there for 10 slowww seconds.
3. Massage the injected area for another 10 seconds after removing the EpiPen®
4. Call 911 and then the parents.
The odds are that if you’re careful and knowledgeable about food allergies, you won’t ever have to deal with a reaction. But it never hurts to be prepared! Go out there and be the best babysitter you can be!