For many people the holidays mean gathering with friends and family and sharing wonderful meals. But for families whose children have food allergies, all the tempting treats can be downright scary.

If you have a child with a food allergy, you worry all the time. That s because a food allergy means the immune system is having an abnormal reaction to a food protein.

The most severe form of this reaction is called anaphylaxis. If not treated promptly, anaphylaxis can be fatal.

Around the holidays, people bring special dishes into homes; there s more baking going on, more entertaining, and it s just more difficult for parents to really keep their eye on what their children are eating. There are school parties with candies, cakes, and other treats.

Nut allergies can be particularly dangerous. According to the research, people who have either a peanut or tree nut allergy are at higher risk for having a severe reaction such as anaphylaxis.

First of all, most reactions happen after the child - or adult - eats an ingredient they didn t expect to be there. If a child is allergic to peanuts, for example he ll be allergic to peanut oil. It s not always obvious that nut oil is an ingredient in something. And many sauces contain peanuts or nuts.

Symptoms of a reaction vary from person to person - and might include vomiting, hives or respiratory distress. The symptoms may progress from mild to severe in several minutes.

Ideally, that child will have an EpiPen with her - or her parent will have given you one if that parent has left the child in your care. This is epinephrine and it s injectable. It can be life-saving. It is most effective when it s given as soon as the symptoms of an allergic reaction show up. Then call 911 or go to an emergency room because the child should be observed for four hours.

Recently, the government released voluntary guidelines for the way schools should deal with food allergies. These ask schools to identify kids with these allergies, plan ways to prevent exposures and train teachers how to use epinephrine injectors.

Many people don t take them seriously - especially nut allergies. Sometimes people get annoyed if there s a nut free classroom and they can t pack peanut butter in their child s lunch. Understand that another child s life might be at risk.

If another parent asks if there are nuts in the cupcake, I don t think so isn t a good answer. If you used a mix, say so - that can rule that cupcake out for many kids, but they need the information. Know the signs of an allergic reaction and know what to do if you see one.

Put yourself in another parent s shoes and talk to your own child about what it s like to have a food allergy - and maybe, why he can t bring banana nut muffins to school.

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