Childhood food allergies cost a 3-year-old boy his life

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Read on to find out the catastrophic consequences that can occur when a child consumes food that he is allergic to.

Childhood food allergies are not something to be taken lightly. If a child consumes something that he is not supposed to, he may not always be lucky enough to escape with rashes or a mild allergic reaction. The consequences can be severe and in the most unfortunate case, it can cost a life.

That’s exactly what happened to Elijah, a three-year-old boy from New York, who died last week after having an allergic reaction at his Manhattan pre-school, according to a report by the New York Times on Thursday (9 November). 

How Childhood Allergies Caused Elijah’s Life 

Elijah Silvera was a student at the Seventh Avenue Center for Family Services in Harlem. In spite of the school knowing and documenting that he was severely allergic to dairy, an adult in the school had given him a grilled cheese sandwich last Friday.

Consequently, he went into anaphylactic shock (a serious allergic reaction that is rapid in onset and may cause death) and was taken to the Paediatric Emergency Room (ER) at Harlem Hospital. However, the outcome was nothing short of a tragedy for they were unable to save the poor little boy.  

The school had not called for an ambulance. Instead, they had called the boy’s mother who then proceeded to take him to the hospital. 

The Health Department closed the school for inadequate supervision of a child and failing to follow its own written safety plan. A spokesman for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said in a statement that the department will “aggressively investigate what happened and whether the facility could have done something differently to prevent this tragedy”.

The family is now raising money for Elijah’s memorial expenses and counselling for his brother, Sebastian, who is five years old. They also intend to pay for a second autopsy as it “is unclear where responsibility will fall for Elijah’s death between the pre-K and the hospital itself”.

childhood food allergies

Could the school have done something differently to prevent Elijah from losing his life to childhood food allergies?

Common Childhood Food Allergies 

Elijah’s death is tragic but unfortunately, it’s not the first time such an incident has occurred. While of course it is impossible to predict when a child may have a severe reaction to childhood food allergies, or any other allergies for that matter, it’s important for parents to know as much as possible about this matter.

To begin with, here are some common food that children may have an adverse reaction to:

  • peanuts
  • milk 
  • eggs
  • soy
  • wheat
  • tree nuts 
  • fish
  • shellfish 

Just so you know, according to Dr. Sri Jakka, (International Medical Clinic) who has special interest in asthma and allergies, the overall incidence of food allergies is less in Singapore as compared to the West. The most common childhood food allergies in Singapore are shellfish and peanuts.

In fact, shellfish is the most common food allergen in Singapore and is cited as the most common cause of food anaphylaxis here so do be careful when introducing this to your children.

Do also watch out for bird’s nest. Some Singaporeans have died after experiencing severe allergic reactions to the soup.

The good news is that rates of egg, milk and fish childhood food allergies in Singapore is generally low but that doesn’t mean you take it for granted.  

On that note, it’s also important that you are aware, and you inform your child’s school if he has G6PD deficiencyThis can cause hemolytic anemia (red blood cells are destroyed and removed from the bloodstream before their normal lifespan is over) when exposed to certain foods so again, it’s not something to be taken lightly. 

Recognising an allergic reaction 

When your child is allergic to a food, their body treats the food like an invader and launches an immune-system attack. 

childhood food allergies

Don’t wait for childhood food allergies to turn into something serious before you act.

Symptoms usually show up within minutes to two hours after the child consumes food that he is allergic to. He may complain of his tongue or mouth tingling, itching or burning. Children don’t always have the vocabulary to communicate how they feel so don’t ignore them if they say their mouth feels strange or funny.

His ears may itch, or he may develop hives or have trouble breathing.

In the case of severe childhood food allergies, it can be life threatening. It takes minutes for their airways to close so you must react fast! 

If your child has trouble breathing, has swelling of the face or lips, or develops vomiting or diarrhoea after eating, it’s likely to be serious. In such a situation, you need paramedics at the scene as soon as possible so please don’t make calls seeking advice, or waste precious time searching up Google for answers. Call for the ambulance!

Managing childhood food allergies 

From a young age, take note of what you feed your child and how they react to it. Take note of the things that your paediatrician tells you and records in your child’s health booklet. 

Do also bear in mind that just because your child has previously not had an allergic reaction or any childhood food allergies, it doesn’t mean that it can’t happen. They can develop allergies at any point in time. Also, when your first introduce a food, the concentration may have been different as it was cooked with other ingredients so always keep a watch.

1. Declare

When your child starts school, you will always have to fill up health declaration forms. Don’t think of this as a chore and rush through it. Ensure that you provide the school with clear and sufficient information about any childhood food allergies that your child has, or is suspected to have. 

childhood food allergies

Be sure that your child’s school is fully aware of any childhood food allergies that he has.

When your child moves up to primary and secondary school, continue to take it seriously. The risk factors don’t decrease with age. Fill up the forms to the best of your knowledge and as accurately as possible.

2. Emphasise 

Human error and negligence is a threat to our children’s safety so it doesn’t hurt to repeatedly emphasise to the school and your child’s teacher. Of course, don’t get obsessive but just remind them every now and then.

3. Make sure your child knows 

The best best is if your child is aware of his allergies and watches out for it. This is of course difficult with younger children but don’t underestimate them. If you repeat it enough, and remind them to check if certain food contain these allergens, it’s possible to hear a child as young as two or three, saying, 

I can’t eat that, it has peanuts. I’m allergic to peanuts.

4. Pack food if you must

If your child is prone to allergies, has them frequently and especially if they are serious, it might be best for you to pack your child’s lunch. That way, you have full control over what he eats.

Also remind your child not to eat birthday cakes and snacks during class celebrations. Even though parents usually abide by the general guidelines of not ordering cakes that contain common allergens, you never know when they ignore these guidelines so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

It is sad and your child may not understand why he can’t eat whatever his classmates eat. Talk to him and explain the situation and assure him that he is always a part of the class even if he has to pass on some food.

So mums and dads, while there’s only so much we can do to prevent a tragedy like this from occurring, let’s try our best to take the best care of our children.

We hope that Elijah’s story serves as a reminder to everyone to take childhood food allergies seriously. We at the Asian Parent are extremely sorry to hear of this tragedy and our thoughts and prayers are with Elijah and his family. Rest in peace little angel!

RELATED: Quick facts about childhood allergies in Singapore

Source: Channel News Asia  Baby Center

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Written by

Nasreen Majid