How Do You Explain To a Child The Difference Between IgE Allergies and EoE?

Published: September 11, 2017
Photo: Getty

Q: My youngest child has severe, IgE-mediated allergies to dairy and peanut. Recently, he was also diagnosed with eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE) to wheat, soy and a few other foods. My son, who’s 7, gets confused by these two kinds of food allergies. Do you have a kid-friendly way to explain the difference?

Dr. Sharma: The two forms of food allergy can definitely can be confusing for children. For a child your son’s age, it should be helpful to describe – in simple, non-threatening terms – the differences in how each condition works inside the body.

For example, for his IgE-mediated allergies to dairy and peanut, you can explain that if he eats those by accident, his body will see them as dangerous and put up a fight against them. This will very quickly cause him to feel very sick in different parts of his body; he might even find it hard to breathe.

Visual Aids to Explaining EoE, Allergies

Yet if he eats wheat, soy or another EoE trigger, it’s his esophagus that gets sick and that takes a longer time – hours to days. In explaining EoE, it can help to use a drawing, and describe the esophagus as the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach. In EoE, that tube becomes irritated hours after eating the food, which causes his symptoms, like vomiting, belly pain, or difficulty swallowing.

Visual reminders can also be useful. For example, wearing a medical ID bracelet with pictures of dairy and peanut will help him to remember that those are the foods his body will immediately see as dangerous.

You could also create a matching game, and he could draw pictures of trigger foods and then paste them to the correct allergy category. Using simple terms and visual representations will help him to gain understanding of his two forms of food allergy. Then as he gets older, you can continue to add detail to the explanation of the two conditions.

Dr. Sharma is an allergist, clinical researcher and associate professor of pediatrics. He is Chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington D.C. and Director of the Food Allergy Program. He co-authors “The Food Allergy Experts” column in Allergic Living e-magazine. Questions submitted will be considered for answer.

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