Parents whose kids have severe food allergies know they can't be too careful - in a child allergic to peanuts, one taste of peanut butter could cause a deadly reaction.
So parents are coming up with ways to remind new teachers, classmates and babysitters to be extra careful.
Michele Walsh, a mother of three from Baltimore, created SafetyTat after having to write safety information on each of her kids' arms during a family trip. The company sells brightly colored temporary tattoos or long-lasting write-on stickers ($19.99 from Safetytat.com) that can be placed prominently on a child's arm, with notices such as "ALERT: NUT ALLERGY" or other critical information.
When you leave a child in someone else's care at school or camp, "no matter how many times you fill out the forms, you're still taking a leap of faith," Walsh says. "This is like my voice with my son when I'm not there. It's almost like teaching them 'stop, drop and roll...' They know exactly what to do."
Other available alert products include medical alert wristbands, necklaces and T-shirts. Lauren's Hopecreates metal and silicone medical alert bracelets for both boys and girls, and a company called Allermates offers allergy education tools, stickers, alert bracelets and other products for kids.
Allermates was created by Iris Shamus, inspired by her son's multiple allergies and an incident at school. "When you have a child with a food allergy, you're always worried. It's just part of your life," she says. "I wanted to have something a little more personalized for him to remind teachers and babysitters."
It began with a fun necklace, then a wristband and a large selection of products accompanied by cartoon characters such as Nutso, a charming peanut, to help her son understand, remember and confidently discuss his allergies.
"It makes me feel so much more secure," she says. "I know you can't be there all the time when you're a mom, and this gives you peace of mind."
More than 3 million youngsters have been diagnosed with food allergies, according to 2012 statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 200 deaths are reported a year.
"Anything that can help educate the patient about their problem and continue to make them aware about it is helpful whether it's a temporary tattoo or a warning bracelet," says Stan Fineman, past president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology and an allergist in Atlanta.
Most allergies, Fineman says, are a result of genetic predispositions and the immune system's overreaction - it interprets a harmless substance as a malignant invader. Common offenders include peanuts and other nuts, cow's milk, soy, seafood, wheat and eggs. They can cause a wide array of reactions, including hives or rashes, swelling, coughing, wheezing, vomiting and diarrhea.
Though there's no cure for allergies, some children grow out of them, and mild cases can be treated with an antihistamine. Severe reactions require immediate attention - usually a shot of epinephrine, in the form of an EpiPen.
"The important thing is for people to accurately find out what they're allergic to and then make sure to take the appropriate precautions," Fineman says. He says parents of kids with severe allergies should keep EpiPens on hand, check school policies, talk to school officials and bring in treats their kids can eat for special events.
Allermates customer Betsy Shea of Chicago says both of her boys, 4-year-old Colin and 2-year-old Emmet, have nut allergies, and Colin wears Allermates' green snap-on wristband featuring Nutso. She's thinking about trying temporary tattoos for Emmet.
Having allergies herself, she remembers having to wear the traditional metal medical alert band, which made her feel different and self-conscious.
But Colin "loves that band. He wears it with pride and thinks it's just so cool. We couldn't get him to take it off for awhile," she says. "But he's really good about it, and he understands the severity of what could potentially happen ... this is a fun way for him to show his buddies."