Living with a shellfish allergy

There’s nothing fishy about a shellfish allergy – over seven million Americans have one! Keeping shellfish out of your little one’s diet is fairly easy when you’ve done your homework (and don’t live on a lobster boat).

What is a shellfish allergy?

A shellfish allergy is a condition where a child’s body reacts to harmless proteins in all or certain shellfish as if they are a threat, which triggers an immune system response. This immune system response can, itself, be dangerous and uncomfortable.

Where else is shellfish found?

There are two subgroups within the shellfish family: crustaceans (lobster, crab, and shrimp) and mollusks (scallops, oysters, clams, and mussels). Most shellfish-allergic people are allergic to crustaceans and can eat mollusks without a reaction, but it’s best to check in with your child’s allergist to find out which shellfish they are allergic to exactly.

As you might have guessed, it’s best for your child to stay away from seafood markets and clambakes. Parents of children with shellfish allergies should get used to reading the ingredients lists on all foods, even the ones that don’t seem like they would contain fish. Your child’s allergist may also recommend avoiding seafood restaurants and restaurants of cuisines that use a lot of shellfish, since there’s a risk of cross-contamination, even when you order a shellfish-free dish for your child.

How is a shellfish allergy treated?

As with all allergies, the first course of treatment is avoidance. If your child has a severe allergy, theirs healthcare provider will likely prescribe epinephrine, or adrenaline, which is dispensed from an auto-injector, or EpiPen. EpiPens should be stored at room-temperature. Many families find it helpful to have several EpiPens – say, one for home, one for daycare, and one to carry around throughout the day.

If your child’s allergy is less severe, their allergist may hold off on prescribing an EpiPen until they reach the weight guidelines for an EpiPen Jr. – 33 pounds – but if it seems possible that they have a more severe allergy to fish, the allergist may prescribe an EpiPen Jr. anyway.

Whether your child’s doctor prescribes an EpiPen, or just recommends antihistamines in case of an allergy attack, it’s important to have whatever supplies are recommended on-hand at all times, and to make sure that all of your child’s caregivers know their allergy response plan.

  • “Shellfish Allergy.” KidsHealth. The Nemours Foundation. September 2015. Retrieved November 27, 2017.
  • “Shellfish Allergy.” Food Allergy Research and Education. Food Allergy Research and Education. Retrieved November 27, 2017.
  • “Shellfish Allergy.” American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology, October 23 2013. Retrieved November 27, 2017.

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