The pre-school and kindergarten years were difficult times for your child with food allergies. But as your child grows, so may her risk of having a serious food allergic reaction.

It's not because the problem worsens as a child ages, but rather that in social situations older kids may begin to take more chances with food and "forget" to carry their injectable epinephrine device, putting them at increased risk for experiencing a serious problem, explains Ruchi Gupta, MD, MPH, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine's Center for Healthcare Studies and clinical attending doctor at the Ann and Robert H Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.

Boys More Prone to Serious Food Allergies

Gupta says the risk of serious child food allergies can particularly impact older boys, often in reaction to peer pressure or due to a fear of being teased that prompts them to drop their guard. Some may be reluctant to carry their epinephrine, may not want to admit that they can't eat certain foods in front of their friends, and may shy away from asking for food ingredients lists. She says that some kids also experience bullying from peers who don't understand food allergic reactions. "As a result, we are seeing more life-threatening reactions and more deaths," she says.

Protecting a Child With Food Allergic Reactions

For parents, this is an especially worrying trend, and one Gupta points out doesn't have to exist. She says that the best way that parents can help protect their children as they get older is to periodically remind them to:

  • Check ingredients in foods and drinks and carry an EpiPen® even when it isn't convenient.
  • Make sure that friends understand the seriousness of food allergic reactions and are willing to support your child to help him stay safe.
  • Teach friends to recognize the signs of an allergic reaction and make sure they know what to do in an emergency, including how to properly administer the epinephine and call 911 for medical help.

"Peer support is critical and seems to be an essential part of decreasing risk taking," Gupta stresses. That's why she says it's also helpful to start working with children in elementary school so that they will feel comfortable coping with peer pressure as they get older and not be likely to take unnecessary risks as they grow.

New Injectable Epinephrine Devices Coming to Market May Help

Beyond these simple steps, Gupta points out that some pharmaceutical companies are also working to create epinephrine holders that are smaller and can better fit into a pocket or small purse. This should make it easier and less conspicuous for teens to carry this important device wherever they go.

Dr. Gupta reviewed this article.



Bunning, Denise and Gupta, Ruchi. "The Food Allergy Experience." 18 Sept. 2012. Web. 27 Jan. 2013.

Gupta RS, et al. "The Prevalence, Severity, and Distribution of Childhood Food Allergy in the United States." Pediatrics 128 (1) (Jul 2011):e9-e17.

Gupta, Ruchi. Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine's Center for Healthcare Studies, clinical attending doctor at the Ann and Robert H Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. Phone interview. 22 Jan. 2013.