Kid Talk: How Kids Describe Food Allergy Symptoms

We hear a lot about the symptoms of food allergies and the terms like anaphylaxis, hypersensitivities, and systemic reactions. Well, we might know what these mean (or maybe not), but do our children? We try to teach our children with food allergies about their allergy from a very young age in order to keep them safe. But in turn, we need to learn from them to keep them safe as well. They have a whole different language they may use in order to express their symptoms.

While an adult may know how to verbalize his food allergy symptoms in pretty clear terms, a young child, or for that matter, any child, may not be able to do so as well. It’s important that we know the descriptions that they may use when they are having an allergic reaction.

Here is a list from the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) of how a child may describe symptoms of a food allergy:

“• This food is too spicy.
• My tongue is hot (or burning).
• It feels like something’s poking my tongue.
• My tongue (or mouth) is tingling (or burning).
• My tongue (or mouth) itches.
• It (my tongue) feels like there’s hair on it.
• My mouth feels funny.
• There’s a frog in my throat.
• There’s something stuck in my throat.
• My tongue feels full (or heavy.)
• My lips feel tight.
• It feels like there are bugs in there (to describe itchy ears).
• It (my throat) feels thick.
• It feels like a bump is on the back of my tongue (throat).”

Also their voices may become hoarse or squeaky and/or words become slurry. Small children may put their hands in their mouths or pull on or try to scratch their tongues in response to the reaction.

I know when my daughter first displayed symptoms it was an “itchy mouth.” I told her to drink some water and rinse her mouth out, because I wasn’t aware of an itchy mouth being a symptom of a food allergy. It took a few more instances of “itchy mouth” and my husband remembering a handful of cashews before we figured it out that she had a food allergy.

Many of the above responses (and my daughter’s) make us think of other causes, ear infections, sore throats, or a simple cold. When we are aware of their language (as well as the symptoms of food allergies) we can react faster and possibly prevent a severe or even life threatening reaction.

– Heather Legg

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