"Our clinic goes beyond just the diagnosis of food allergy; we care for each and every allergy-related need of our patients and their families. Our team of pediatric experts can provide state-of-the-art-diagnosis as well as complete medical management, education and social support services."
- John Lee, MD, director of The Food Allergy Comprehensive Education, Treatment and Support Program
Food plays a very significant role in our lives, both nutritionally and socially. Because food is so prevalent in our day-to-day life and food allergy management can be stressful at times, raising a happy and healthy child with a food allergy may require medical, psychological and social support.
The Food Allergy Comprehensive Education, Treatment and Support Program at Boston Children's Hospital is a multidisciplinary food allergy clinic designed to treat all aspects of food allergies, including medical, dietary, social and psychological concerns. The clinic is hosted by Boston Children's Division of Allergy and Immunology, the largest provider of pediatric allergy services in the region, and is held in a newly renovated clinical area. All of our physicians hold faculty appointments at Harvard Medical School.
The team is made up of many different types of care professionals, each with a unique role in treating, educating and supporting our patients and their families, including:
- social workers
- allergy techs
About food allergies
Traditionally, food allergy treatment has been focused on identifying, then avoiding, trigger foods. This treatment method may help patients avoid immediate harm, but does little to address the many other emotional, social and nutritional issues related to the condition.
Today, with as many as 8 percent of all American children living with a food allergy, medical professionals agree that a single treatment approach based solely on avoidance is no longer enough.
The staff at our clinic believes that to truly and effectively manage food allergies in children, the child, parents and other caregivers must understand all aspects of managing those allergies, including any related anxieties. To do so, families at the Food Allergy Comprehensive Education, Treatment and Support Program have the opportunity to meet with a variety of Boston Children's experts, each with a unique role in the treatment process. Together the team will ensure its patients receive all the medical and emotional support they need to live healthily and happily.
Allergists are specialized doctors who are experts in diagnosing and treating allergic conditions, including food allergy. During a visit to our clinic, a meeting with the allergist will likely include a comprehensive history and physical examination to determine the severity of the food allergy. A few things the allergist may want to know include:
- Which foods have caused reactions?
- What symptoms do you notice when you eat or come in contact with a trigger food (e.g., hives or a scratchy throat)?
- How often does the reaction happen?
- How long does it take between eating a particular food and the start of the symptoms?
- Do any family members have allergies or conditions like eczema and asthma?
The allergist also may want to perform a few tests to fully understand the extent of the food allergy. These tests can include:
- Skin Tests - If you suspect that your child is allergic to something specific, skin testing can confirm it. During this test, liquid extracts of the allergens are placed on the top layer of the skin through a pricking device, which scratches the surface of the skin. If the suspected allergen is causing the allergic reaction, a red bump will form where the test was applied. Skin testing yields results faster than blood testing.
- Blood Tests - A measurement of specific IgE antibodies in the blood can help indicate if your child has allergies. In reaction to allergens, the body typically produces IgE antibodies—a high IgE level to a specific food likely means the child has allergies.
- Food Challenges – In some cases, children may have outgrown their allergies. To confirm that your child has outgrown his food allergy, your allergist can arrange a food challenge. During this procedure increasing amounts of the trigger food is given in our hospital under the supervision of a nurse and allergist.
Dietitian- A registered dietitian (RD) will be available to explain how your child's food allergy will impact his or her diet and teach you how to avoid unsafe foods as well as how to choose safe foods to provide a nutritious and good tasting diet. When a food allergy makes certain foods off limits, it's important to make sure that your child is supplementing any missing nutrients with other foods or supplements. The RD can evaluate your case to ensure that your child receives all nutrition he needs.
Social workers - Are trained, licensed professionals who provide a range of psychosocial services to our patients and their families, both within the hospital and the community at-large.
Social workers help children, teens and families learn how to cope with their food allergy and any challenges it presents in their lives. They also help families identify local support groups and communicate with schools and other organizations that may need to be aware of the food allergy.
Psychologist – Our clinic has an onsite psychologist available to families. In some cases, substantial life changes are required after a food allergy diagnosis, and these changes can be challenging for some families. Our psychologist can work with families at the outset of diagnosis to support a healthy adaption to lifestyle change for patient and family. The psychologist can help children and teens develop confidence in their own allergy management skills, promote coping and problem-solving skills and help all family members manage anxiety about food allergies.
Nurses - The nursing staff is vital to the Food Allergy Comprehensive Education, Treatment and Support Program. Our nurses have decades of experience in food allergy and not only assist allergists in administering tests and procedures in clinic, but also act as the clinic's primary educators, teaching patients and their families about food allergy and its treatments, including:
- How to treat a food reaction and when to seek medical care
- How and when to use an epinephrine autoinjector (eg. Epi-Pen, Auvi-Q)
- How to properly read food ingredient labels
- How to safely order food in restaurants
In addition to making a multidisciplinary staff available to its patients and families, we offer the convenience of having an entire team at your disposal, all in one place. Unlike many allergy centers, which can require patients to see multiple specialists at different locations and dates, our team sees its patients in one place during one visit.
This "one-stop-shopping" allows our patients and their families to receive the best care in less time, making the food allergy—and its treatment—less disruptive to their lives.
But it’s not just patients and their families who benefit from a centralized care environment—our team also thrives in the clinic model. By working side-by-side, the members of our staff have more in-depth communication than they would in a traditional food allergy care setting. This enhanced level of communication leads to more effective and streamlined care models, ensuring that even the most complex cases are expertly managed in less time.
Tips for parents: Keeping school safe for children with food allergy
John Lee, director of the Food Allergy Program, talks about the important role all parents—not just those with food allergic children—play inkeeping kids with food allergy safe. In this video, Dr. Lee talks about the known causes of anaphylaxis, and how to identify its signs and symptoms. Share this video with your child's teachers, friends and their families—it could save a life!
Tips for parents: Keeping school safe for children with food allergy