Celiac disease affects one in 70 Australians. The main symptom of celiac disease is long-term diarrhoea that keeps coming back. The diarrhoea is usually foul-smelling and difficult to wash (it might appear sticky or greasy).

If not treated promptly, celiac disease can cause growth failure, delayed puberty, and an inability to gain weight in children.

So in this article, we’ll discuss 6 tips to help your child manage celiac disease better and avoid its complications.

 

Educate yourself and your child

The first step in helping your child manage their condition better is to get the basics right.

For starters, many people believe that celiac disease is simply an allergy. It’s not. It’s an autoimmune condition where the body attacks itself. This self-attack is focused on the small intestines, which leads to symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea.

Another misconception about celiac disease is that it’s curable. Once again, it’s not. It’s a lifelong illness and can be managed only via a strict gluten-free diet.

It’s important to educate your child about these basic principles that underlie their condition. If they don’t get the basics right, they’ll never be able to manage celiac properly and might run into complications later in life.

It can be difficult to explain celiac disease to children. You can try introducing your child to a doctor who is trained in treating celiac in children. They might be able to better explain celiac to your child. The Centre for Gastrointestinal Health is a good place to find a well-trained gastrointestinal physician.

 

Inform the adults involved in your child’s life about their condition

Many people don’t take children seriously, which is why you must inform every adult in your child’s life about their condition.

These include school teachers, nannies, daycare staff, and your relatives. Explain to them that your child is not medically allowed to consume gluten-containing foods (and that any crying after a meal is not a tantrum).

This is important so that your child doesn’t get pressured into making the wrong food choices.

 

Focus on what they can eat

It can be difficult to restrict a child’s diet. But a bit of psychology can help your child make the right food choices.

Instead of discussing what your child can’t, try focusing on what they can. Food items that are safe in celiac include:

  • Rice
  • Corn
  • Potatoes
  • Soybeans
  • Fish
  • Chicken
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Gluten-free cookies, pizza, cake, and pasta — every child wants to eat these items, so make sure you have them at hand.

 

You check out a more comprehensive celiac disease diet plan here.

 

However, make sure your child knows what they can’t eat. This is especially important when they’re old enough to make their own food choices. When doing this, try not to use scare tactics to keep your child from eating gluten-containing foods.

Instead, let them know that you’re on their side and help them understand the complications that can result from reckless eating. Let them know that the dietary restrictions placed on them are for their own good.

 

Be aware of comorbid conditions

One autoimmune condition predisposes to another. This is why celiac disease can occur with a wide range of other conditions, including:

  • Diabetes mellitus type 1 — this may present as excessive urination and thirst
  • Dermatitis herpetiformis, which is an itchy skin rash that appears as grouped vesicles
  • Selective IgA deficiency — this increases your child’s risk of developing recurrent intestinal infections
  • Lactase deficiency, where the body can’t digest dairy products

An important aspect of managing celiac disease includes being aware of these conditions and seeking treatment if you think your child has one.

Some of these illnesses can be masked by the symptoms of celiac disease. For example, lactase deficiency also causes abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea.

Similarly, IgA deficiency can lead to intestinal infections, which in turn cause foul-smelling, greasy diarrhea that’s seen in celiac.

So if your child is experiencing abdominal symptoms despite a strict gluten-free diet, they may have one of these conditions. You must consult a healthcare provider if that’s the case.

 

Normalize celiac disease

Children with celiac disease might feel they’re alone in their disease. They might also feel they’re different from other children, which can be damaging to their self-esteem.

This is why it’s a good idea to normalize celiac disease. You can do this by finding celiac support groups for your child, where they can interact with other children with the condition and feel better.

You can also treat celiac disease as a household condition. It may be a good idea to have your entire family go gluten-free and visit only those cafes that offer a healthy kids menu.

 

Teach your child to read food labels

The best thing you can do for a child with celiac disease is teaching them to read food labels.

Here are some tips that can help your child spot gluten as they grow up:

Stay away from anything that contains rye, wheat, barley, malt, and triticale (even if the food label reads “gluten-free”). That’s because labelling mistakes can happen, and a mislabeled “gluten-free” product might trigger your child’s abdominal symptoms.

Products containing wheat starch might be okay. This is only true if the wheat starch has been processed to remove gluten.

Be aware of cross-contact. Products made from naturally gluten-free ingredients might not be labelled “gluten-free”. That’s because they may be manufactured with equipment shared with gluten/wheat. This cross-contact can trigger celiac symptoms.

Know hidden gluten sources. Gluten can be found in foods you would not expect. These include soy sauce, dressings, gravies, and liquorice. It’s important to read the food label on every product you buy.

For more information about gluten and its sources, check out this brochure by Celiac.org.

 

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