It is important to make your child eat nutritious food. More so necessary is to learn which type of food your child is allergic to. Food allergies are common and most of these allergic reactions will subside as your child grows. Learn the type of food allergens and how it can affect your child.
Last Updated: 23 October 2020
What is food allergy?
Food allergy is an abnormal immune response of the body against harmless protein in the food. The abnormal immune response is termed as allergic reaction and the proteins in the food that trigger the allergy are said to be allergens. Allergic reactions can be mild or severe.
It is estimated that 32 million Americans have food allergies; this includes 5.6 million children under age 18. The data from Food Allergy Research and Education states that one 1 of every 13 children is allergic to minimum one food.
Food allergy versus food intolerance
Food allergy is different from food intolerance. Though there may be an overlap in the symptoms, food intolerance does not affect the immune system. Food intolerance is more common and it is associated with baby’s digestive system. Some of the examples of food intolerance are:
1. Lactose intolerance: This condition happens when the baby is deficient of the enzyme that is needed to break the lactose (sugar) in the milk. The symptoms of lactose intolerance include bloating, diarrhea and abdominal cramps.
2. Gluten sensitivity: This condition happens when a baby’s body reacts to a protein called gluten in grains like wheat. Common symptoms of gluten sensitivity are headache, bloating and diarrhea.
3. Food additives: Some children cannot tolerate food additives like chemicals, sulfites, preservatives and emulsifiers in foods. Symptoms of this include rash, diarrhea and nausea.
What are the main food allergens?
Some of the main food allergens are cow’s milk, eggs, soy, fish and shellfish (shrimp, lobster), peanuts and tree nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios), wheat. The most common food allergens are eggs, milk and peanuts. As a child develops, some of the allergies may outgrow and some allergies may remain life long.
Symptoms of food allergy
Soon after consuming a food that is allergic to your child, you may begin to notice symptoms within minutes to an hour. The most common symptoms are
Red, itchy bumps on the skin (Hives)
Itchy skin rashes (eczema)
Swelling of the lips, tongue, and/or face
Runny nose, cough
Shortness of breath
Loss of consciousness
Lower blood pressure
Allergies to milk and soy are usually seen in infants and young children. The specific symptoms of these allergies include colic (fussy baby), blood in your child's stool and poor growth.
Some allergies may be severe and life threatening which is called anaphylaxis. This requires immediate medical attention.
What happens during an allergic reaction?
There are several different antibodies to fight against infection. During an allergy, the immune system sends out an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). These IgE antibodies react with food and releases histamine. These histamines and other chemicals are responsible for a variety of allergy symptoms listed above.
Diagnosis of food allergies
The doctor will carry out a complete physical examination and to confirm the diagnosis some blood tests will be done.
1. Skin prick test: This test is to check for allergies like foods, pollen, or animal dander. The skin will be cleaned with alcohol and a small amount of diluted allergen will be placed and the skin will be scratched. After few minutes, if the child develops reddish elevated bump, it means that she is allergic to a particular allergen.
2. Blood tests: There are a variety of automated analyzers that are available to measure the levels of IgE in the blood. Elevated levels of IgE means there is an allergy in the individual. After correlating the results with the symptoms, a diagnosis will be made.
Treatment of food allergies
There is no specific treatment for food allergies. If your child is allergic to a particular food, it is better to avoid it.
If your child is unable to eat certain foods, supplement them with vitamins and minerals.
Children, who are at risk of anaphylaxis, should always carry 2 epinephrine autoinjectors with them to prevent serious reactions.
Anti-histamines are given to treat allergy symptoms like hives, runny nose and stomach pain.
Some of the food allergies may subside after the age of three or four and your child may be able to consume those foods after that.
Some precautions can be taken to avoid food allergies:
Avoid solid foods till first six months and encourage breastfeeding for the first six months for your child
During your child’s first year of life, avoid wheat, eggs, peanuts, and fish
Choose a proper restaurant for dining and make sure what ingredients are used in the food before eating