The nightmare of food allergies in children: “a constant sword of Damocles” over the heads of parents

Milk, soy, peanuts, eggs, fish: tens of thousands of Quebec families live the daily nightmare of food allergies, a veritable sword of Damocles which can be fatal and causes a lot of anxiety and frustration.

“When the severe reactions arrived, it became scary,” confides with emotion Jessy Ranger, whose son had a severe allergic reaction at six months old while eating a banana. I wasn’t equipped to deal with that. I was alarmed.”

“The risk is always there. You have to live by trusting life, philosopher Marie-Ève ​​Corneau, whose boy also has several allergies. But it’s still a great anguish.”

As soon as foods are introduced, babies a few months old develop 5, 10, or even 30 allergies, to the great despair of parents. For many children, a crumb of an allergen could be downright fatal.

  • Listen to the interview with Héloïse Archambault, Health Journalist at JDM on Alexandre Dubé’s microphone via QUB :
A sword of Damocles

“It’s a constant sword of Damocles hanging over their head,” summarizes Liane Beaudette, nurse specializing in oral immunotherapy at the Montreal Children’s Hospital.

Between 2017 and 2022, three Quebec teenagers died from a food allergy, according to the Coroner’s Office.

Also read: A father whose 15-year-old daughter died in 2022 is campaigning for better care for children with allergies.

“There are parents who experience a lot of anxiety,” announces Dr.r Philippe Bégin, allergist at Sainte-Justine hospital. It’s not like regular anxiety, which is a disproportionate and unjustified fear. […] In allergies, fear is justified! You have to be vigilant, but not hypervigilant.”

Photo Pierre-Paul Poulin, Le Journal de Montréal / QMI Agency

Dr Bégin adds that conversely, some parents are not careful enough, which results in visits to the emergency room for serious allergic reactions.

On social networks, many parents share their discouragement and look for solutions to improve their daily lives. For her son’s first plane trip, Mme Corneau had to disinfect his seat.

According to Mme Bettez, the mental burden of this condition falls mainly on mothers.


“It’s the burden of avoidance and a constant state of hypervigilance. It affects all facets of life. Food is everywhere, all the time! »

Marie-Josée Bettez, founder of the organization Déjouer les allergies.


There are no recent statistics on food allergies in Quebec. However, specialists agree that around 5% of children are affected, or around 80,000 children. Adults are less allergic (3 to 4%). The severity of the allergy varies. In worst cases, airborne particles or cross-contamination (contact with a knife) can cause a reaction.

Another problem: the wait to see an allergist can take years.

Faced with this gloomy picture, there is hope on the horizon: treatments have made it possible to cure an allergy for several years. But the waiting list can stretch for years, lament parents and allergists.

A serious overreaction of the immune system to contact with protein from a normally harmless food. This is called anaphylaxis.

When the body feels attacked, antibodies activate cells that release inflammatory products and cause symptoms. The person should quickly receive a dose of epinephrine to avoid a cascade of serious symptoms. If the situation worsens, you must go to the emergency room.

Symptoms of a food allergy

  • Redness
  • Stomach ache
  • Swollen tongue
  • Heartache
  • Vomiting
  • Plates
  • Asthma attack
  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Red eyes
  • Swollen throat

Food Allergy Risk Factors

  • Genetic (more risks if parents have allergies)
  • Eczema (35% risk of food allergy). Since the skin is damaged, allergens can penetrate under the skin and the body reacts.
  • Asthma

▪ Food allergies have seen a significant jump in Quebec as throughout North America: +50% for children Americans between 1997 and 2011.

About 5% of children have at least one food allergy.

75,000 children of school age have at least one allergy.

▪ The causes of the increase are not all clear, but part is attributable to cleaner environment (the body is less exposed to microbes and reacts) and better diagnostics.

For 10 yearsthe number of cases is rather stable.

All kinds of impacts

This condition can have several psychological impacts on children: fear of eating, frustration, anxiety, feeling of rejection at school. At all times, little ones must carry an auto-injector (epinephrine) in the event of an allergic reaction.

Many parents spend hours reading and analyzing ingredient lists or even calling companies. The grocery bill is often also very steep. At least, parents of children with allergies can obtain a government supplement of $229 per month (several criteria apply).

Furthermore, several parents remain affected by a severe allergic reaction (anaphylactic shock) in their child. In the worst cases, the child quickly stopped breathing and lost consciousness.

“There are parents who literally have symptoms of post-traumatic stress,” notes the Dr Begin.

Should allergens be avoided at a young age?

Allergens should be introduced as early as possible (including peanuts), according to the National Institute of Public Health of Quebec.

We are not born allergic, we become allergic upon contact. The sooner the baby is sensitized, the less likely he or she will react.

Most allergenic foods

9 types of foods cause 93% of severe allergic reactions

The worst in children


  • egg (1.5% to 3% of children)
  • cow’s milk (2.5% of children under 1 year old)
  • soy (14% of children allergic to cow’s milk are also allergic to
    soy protein)


  • wheat
  • peanut
  • nut
  • Pisces

They leave as they grow up

  • 76% of milk allergies are resolved before age 5
  • 75% of egg allergies are resolved before age 7
  • 80% of wheat allergies are resolved before 5 years of age
  • Only 20% of peanut allergies resolve before age 7

The worst in adults

  • peanuts
  • nut
  • Pisces
  • shellfish

Source: Allergies Québec, CHU Sainte-Justine and AAIQ

How to use an epinephrine auto-injector?

Epinephrine helps clear the airways and increases blood pressure. This helps relieve life-threatening respiratory symptoms.

The nightmare of food allergies in children: “a constant sword of Damocles” over the heads of parents

Photo Agence QMI, JOEL LEMAY

When should you use the auto-injector?

As soon as there are symptoms. For the past year, patients who self-inject have not been required to go to the emergency room if their condition improves and they have a second dose.

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