Managing Food Allergies During Holiday Season

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Most of us look forward to parties and family gatherings during this holiday season. For children with food allergies, however, it may be a challenge to enjoy these gatherings, according to a pediatric allergist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

“When attending a holiday party, always inform the host of your child’s food allergy. If possible, tell the host in advance so that it is not an issue when the child arrives,” says Karl von Tiehl, MD, a pediatric allergist at Cincinnati Children’s. “Do not announce the food allergy to a large group. It’s best to address people individually in order to preserve your child’s dignity. It’s also important for parents to make risk factors abundantly clear to their child since it is a completely preventable cause of death.”

It is the family’s responsibility to read all food labels and carry Benadryl and an EpiPen at all times, in case their child has a serious allergic reaction to food known as anaphylaxis, according to Dr. von Tiehl. “These are medications that will save lives and can be carried in a backpack or pocket,” he says.

If a child knowingly ingests an allergen, Dr. von Tiehl advises that the child immediately receive Benadryl, which can take 30 minutes or more to start working. Anaphylaxis is potentially life-threatening allergic reaction that affects two or more unrelated organ systems. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

  • Swelling of the throat, lips, tongue, or around the eyes 
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing 
  • A metallic taste or itching in the mouth 
  • Generalized flushing, itching, or redness of the skin 
  • Abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea 
  • Increased heart rate 
  • Lowered blood pressure (and accompanying paleness) 
  • A sudden feeling of weakness 
  • Anxiety or an overwhelming sense of doom 
  • Wheezing 
  • Collapse 
  • Unconsciousness

If a child experiences any two symptoms from unrelated organ systems, an epinephrine pen should be used immediately. “The medication is designed to last only 15 minutes, so it is important to call 911 as well,” he says.

“You should not be driving if you just administered the EpiPen to yourself or your child. It is also important to recognize that you cannot drive as fast as an ambulance,” says Dr. von Tiehl.

About Cincinnati Children’s

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center is one of 10 children’s hospitals in the United States to make the Honor Roll in U.S. News and World Reports 2009-10 America’s Best Children’s Hospitals issue. It is #1 ranked for digestive disorders and is also highly ranked for its expertise in respiratory diseases, cancer, neonatal care, heart care, neurosurgery, diabetes, orthopedics, kidney disorders and urology. One of the three largest children’s hospitals in the U.S., Cincinnati Children’s is affiliated with the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and is one of the top two recipients of pediatric research grants from the National Institutes of Health.

President Barack Obama in June 2009 cited Cincinnati Children’s as an “island of excellence” in health care. For its achievements in transforming health care, Cincinnati Children’s is one of six U.S. hospitals since 2002 to be awarded the American Hospital Association-McKesson Quest for Quality Prize for leadership and innovation in quality, safety and commitment to patient care. The hospital is a national and international referral center for complex cases. Additional information can be found at

Contact Information

Danielle Lewis, 513-636-9473,