What Parents Should Know About Childhood Food Allergies
It seems that allergies are becoming more common.
Here’s how to identify, treat, and live with childhood food allergies.
Like adult allergies, childhood allergies are when a child’s body has a bad immune response to a trigger food. The body sees this food as an “invader” rather than “food” and attempts to attack it with a histamine response.
This can result in the typical symptoms we think of when we think of allergies. Some may include hives, itching, and trouble breathing. Childhood allergies can also cause symptoms that would surprise you.
Read on to find out the symptoms of childhood food allergies, common triggers, and why it doesn’t have to change your entire life.
What Is a Food Allergy?
A food allergy is when a person’s body has a histamine reaction to a food (not to be confused with a food intolerance, which is less serious than an allergy).
Having an allergy to a certain food means that you have to avoid that food long-term and under the direction of a physician. A food intolerance is a minor reaction and one where you can reintroduce that food at a later time.
Common Childhood Allergies
When you think of allergies, what comes to mind? Do you imagine sneezing, runny noses, and watery eyes?
But what about food allergies? Those words are enough to strike fear in the hearts of parents. But don’t worry. These allergies are relatively common and easy to identify (and thus avoid).
Some of the most common allergies are dairy, shellfish, peanuts, soy, wheat, eggs, and fish.
According to research, in order to have an allergic reaction, a child must have been exposed to the food at least once before. Once that initial exposure happens, they may react when they eat the food again. (In other words, don’t automatically believe they are not allergic if they’ve tried a type of food and had no reaction.)
In extreme cases, food allergies can lead to anaphylaxis, which is considered a medical emergency.
Food Allergy vs. Food Intolerance
Unfortunately, these two terms are often confused, and parents can cause themselves a whole lot of headaches attempting to avoid foods that don’t need to be avoided.
Food intolerances cause stomach upset, diarrhea, headaches, gas, and other gastrointestinal symptoms. This type of food issue does not involve an immune response within the body. This type of reaction is rarely considered dangerous, and a child may even outgrow the problem.
For example, babies may outgrow their milk allergies once they get older. At the direction of your pediatrician, you can reintroduce these foods slowly.
Food Allergy Symptoms
While not all reactions to food are emergent, it’s always good to jot down what reactions your child had so that the pediatrician can go over them.
Some common reactions from a food allergy are trouble breathing, gasping for air, swelling in the face or lips, dizziness or loss of consciousness, difficulty talking, a swollen tongue, feeling as though the throat is closing, and a fast heartbeat.
If you suspect your child is having an allergic reaction to food, get immediate medical attention by dialing 911.
There are many ways to diagnose food allergies in children.
One way to diagnose some food allergies is to go over your symptom list with your child’s doctor. S/he can use that to suggest foods to avoid.
Blood work can measure the amount of an allergy antibody called immunoglobulin.
This test is one of the more popular methods (though not foolproof). It is a test that involves scratching a small number of substances (like food) onto your skin to see if it provokes a reaction.
This is good at determining allergies to the most severe items, such as peanuts and shellfish.
Oral Food Challenge
This method is controlled at a pediatric allergist’s office. They will have your child sample small pieces of food and wait for reactions. It’s important not to do this yourself, as a doctor’s office is much better equipped to handle emergencies.
Can Food Allergies Be Prevented?
Unfortunately, no. There are no tried and true methods for preventing childhood food allergies. There have been some theories that breastfeeding an infant can help expose them to allergens through breastmilk and therefore get their bodies used to foods. But this theory is not proven.
Another theory says that exposing children to allergens before their first birthday results in fewer childhood allergies. Still, you should always consult with your child’s pediatrician first.
How To Avoid Exposure
Nowadays, it is relatively easy to avoid food allergens. Food packaging is now required to list all ingredients so that parents can read them. Some packaging will even label the top allergens separately.
There are also online guides (like this one) that allow families to look up what restaurants will be safe for their children to eat at.
It is also vital that you inform your child’s school/daycare and teacher so that they are aware of the allergy and they can make sure to be careful in their lunchroom and classroom.
Finding out that your child has a food allergy can be worrisome, but it doesn’t have to change your entire life. There are even plenty of healthy lunch ideas for kids with allergies like sunflower butter and oat butter. Once you have answers to what allergies your child has and what they need to avoid, you’ll have the information to keep them safe.
Give us a call today if you suspect your child may have a food allergy, and we’ll schedule them for an appointment.
Kid Care Pediatrics
Kid Care Pediatrics has been in existence since October 2001. It was established by Omar A. Gomez, M.D. The practice philosophy at Kid Care Pediatrics is to provide quality pediatric medical care for children in a professional yet caring manner.