The advice here is for parents of a child with a food allergy. Most of it is also relevant if you're an adult with a food allergy.
Your child's diet
There's currently no cure for food allergies. Many children will grow out of certain ones.
The most effective way you can prevent symptoms is to remove that food – known as an allergen – from their diet.
It's important to check with your GP or the doctor in charge of your child's care first before eliminating certain foods.
Removing eggs or peanuts from a child's diet is not going to have much of an impact on their nutrition. Both of these foods are a good source of protein. This can be replaced by other sources of protein.
Milk is a good source of calcium, so a milk allergy can have more of an impact. There are many other ways you can get calcium into your child's diet. Many foods and drinks have extra calcium added.
Contact your GP if you're concerned that your child's food allergy is affecting their growth and development.
Check the label of any pre-packed food or drinks for ingredients your child is allergic to. The label must clearly state if it contains the following ingredients:
- cereals that contain gluten – including wheat, rye, barley and oats
- crustaceans – including prawns, crabs and lobsters
- lupin (common garden plants) – seeds from some varieties are sometimes used to make flour
- molluscs – including mussels and oysters
- tree nuts – such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios and macadamia nuts
- sesame seeds
- sulphur dioxide and sulphites (preservatives used in some foods and drinks) – at levels above 10mg per kg or per litre
Also look out for voluntary "may contain" labels, such as "may contain traces of peanut". Manufacturers sometimes use this label to warn consumers that they may have become contaminated with another food product in production.
Be careful with foods labelled as vegan. There is no legal definition of vegan. Foods labelled vegan are not always completely free of animal products. Read the ingredients list carefully if you have allergies to milk, eggs, fish, crustaceans or molluscs. Look out for labels with warnings such as "may contain".
Read more detailed information about allergen labelling on the Food Safety Authority website.
Some non-food products contain allergy-causing food:
- some soaps and shampoos contain soy, egg and tree nut oil
- some pet foods contain milk and peanuts
- some glues and adhesive labels used on envelopes and stamps contain traces of wheat
Read the labels of any non-food products your child may come into close physical contact with.
Unpackaged food does not need to be labelled in the same way as packaged food. The law requires food businesses to tell customers if their food products contain any of the 14 allergens, but this can be done in different ways.
Examples of unpackaged food include food sold in:
- bakeries – including in-store bakeries in supermarkets
- salad bars
- "ready-to-eat" sandwich shops
- cafes, canteens and restaurants
- market stalls
If you or your child have a severe food allergy, you need to be careful when you eat out.
Let the staff know
When booking a table at a restaurant, make sure the staff know about any allergies. Ask for a firm guarantee that the specific food will not be in any of the dishes served.
Read the menu carefully and check for hidden ingredients
Some food types contain other foods that can trigger allergies, which restaurant staff may have overlooked. Some desserts contain nuts and some sauces contain wheat and peanuts.
Prepare for the worst
It's a good idea to prepare for any eventuality. Always take anti-allergy medicine with you when eating out, particularly an adrenalin auto-injector.
Use a taste test in older children
Before your child begins to eat, ask them to take a tiny portion of the food and rub it against their lips to see if they experience a tingling or burning sensation. If they do, the food might cause them to have an allergic reaction. The taste test does not work for all foods. It should not be used as a substitute for the other advice on this page.
Here's some more advice for parents.
Tell your child's school about their allergy
Depending on how severe their allergy is, you may need to give the staff at their school an emergency action plan in case of accidental exposure. Arrange for the school to have a supply of adrenaline.
Food allergy bracelets are also available. These explain how other people can help your child in an emergency.
Let other parents know
Young children may easily forget about their food allergy and accept food they should not have when visiting other children. Telling the parents of your child's friends about their allergy should help prevent this.
Educate your child
When they are old enough, it's important to let your child know what foods to avoid and what they should do if they eat them.
Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE