It’s hard to escape the startling fact that severe allergies, including food allergies, are on the rise. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that the prevalence of food allergies increased 18 percent in children between 1997 and 2007. Today, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, approximately one in 13 American children have a severe food allergy.

Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction include difficulty breathing, a drop in blood pressure, and problems with swallowing. One potentially life threatening allergic reaction is anaphylaxis. Allergic reactions to food send someone to the emergency room every three minutes in America, according to Food Allergy Research & Education.

It’s very important to avoid the triggers that cause allergic reactions. Equally important is having an action plan for when an allergic reaction occurs. For people of all ages, being prepared and knowing how to respond can mean the difference between life and death. Read on for tips regarding how to discuss severe allergies with your child.

If Your Child Has Allergies

An allergic response can be a scary thing. Whether it’s a mild reaction or a more severe one, an older child will likely remember the discomfort and irritation they felt during the response. Fear of having another reaction can be paralyzing. It’s important to help your child feel in control of their allergies and prepare them (as well as others who should know) for what to do in case of an attack.

Learn About Triggers

The best way to avoid an allergic reaction is to avoid a trigger. Ask your child’s doctor about getting a thorough allergy test. Once your child is tested, you will have a better understanding of the allergens they need to avoid.

Younger children may not be able to fully understand their allergies, let alone explain them to other children or adults. It’s important to equip the adults in your child’s life with the information they need about your child’s allergy. Provide a list of allergies to your child’s school, daycare, or after-school care. Go a step further and purchase an allergy alert bracelet that details your child’s allergies. Kid-friendly options are available from companies such as AllerMates and Allerbling. Teach your child to present the allergy bracelet to any adults that offer them food.

Older kids can protect themselves more easily. Provide them with a list of their triggers, and as they are able, help them learn to recognize hidden triggers on nutritional labels. This will help them feel safe when they are in an environment where you don’t get to oversee the food they are offered.

Responding to Anaphylaxis

An allergic response can quickly escalate. It is important that your child knows how important it is to tell an adult if they do not feel well. They should know to call emergency services (and you, if possible) if they’re ever alone and feeling unwell. Provide them with a list of phone numbers next to the home telephone so they know whom to dial in an emergency.

If your child is old enough to carry their own epinephrine autoinjector, make sure they keep it with them at all times. Provide them with a purse or backpack that helps them safely carry the medicine. If you think it is necessary, schedule regular training sessions with your doctor’s office or a health education office so they can practice. Also, help your child learn to check the autoinjector’s expiration date.

If Your Child’s Friend or Sibling Has Allergies

Siblings and friends can be good allies for children with severe allergies. Arm your child with the knowledge to protect and they’ll feel empowered to help when necessary.

Teaching Non-Allergic People to be Allergy-Aware

The biggest hurdle in learning to avoid allergens is learning to analyze everything for possible triggers. It’s never safe to assume something is safe. Teach your child to ask adults for clarification if they are not sure about a food item, for instance. Help your child learn to recognize hidden allergens in food so their sibling or friend with allergies won’t eat it.

Also, it’s important that children learn to help deflect curiosity if it upsets their friend or sibling. Food allergies are more common than they used to be, but children can become very curious and sometimes ill spirited about differences. Help equip your child to answer questions but quickly change subjects.

Responding to a Reaction

A quick reaction time can save a life. Teach your child to respond to their friend’s or sibling’s allergic reaction with a calm head. Keep a list of emergency numbers posted by the phone. On a cell phone, program all numbers so they are easy to locate. If your child is old enough to drive and can transport someone experiencing a reaction, make sure they know which hospital to go to.

Older children can be taught to administer epinephrine injections. Talk with your family’s doctor or a local health education association about epinephrine injection lessons.

Education Is Essential

Preparation saves lives. The more prepared your child feels to save themselves, a friend, or sibling, the better they will respond in the event of an emergency. Teach them what you can as they are able. Go over plans regularly. In the event of an emergency, you can rest easier knowing they are as prepared as they can be.