The top 8 most common food allergies in the United States are milk, wheat, soy, eggs, fish, tree nuts, shellfish, and peanuts. These allergens must be properly identified on any food packaging that is regulated by the FDA. In children, the most common allergens are egg, milk, and peanuts.
However, a person can develop an allergy to any food, and allergies can even come on suddenly. This means that even foods your child has previously shown no issue with can develop into allergens.
Diagnosis of Food Allergies in Children
Often, a diagnosis is made based on the presence of symptoms when your child is exposed to a particular allergen. There are a few other ways to clinically diagnose this allergy, however. A blood test or skin prick test can be done to confirm suspicions of an allergy and determine how severe the body’s reaction to that allergen could be.
Any tests to confirm food allergies should always be done under the direction and supervision of a medical professional. If you suspect that your child may be reactive to a particular food due to prior experience or family history, a food challenge can be completed safely in-office with a doctor and medication standing by.
Symptoms of Food Allergies in Children
Allergic reactions to food can be revealed immediately upon consuming the allergen or could even occur hours later.
Mild symptoms of a food allergy include:
- Hives or a rash
- Swelling of the tongue or lips
- Runny nose
Severe symptoms can include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Throat swelling
- Nausea or vomiting
- Stomach pain
In the most serious of cases, anaphylaxis can occur. Anaphylaxis is a systematic allergic reaction that can involve the respiratory, digestive, and circulatory systems. Signs of anaphylaxis include:
- Dizziness or confusion
- Weak pulse
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath/wheezing
- Swelling of the lips, tongue, and throat
- Trouble swallowing
- Turning blue
- Fainting and loss of consciousness
Anaphylaxis is a serious medical emergency, and medical care must be sought after immediately by calling 911.
Treatment of Allergic Reactions in Children
Antihistamines like Benadryl can help treat mild symptoms such as hives or swollen lips.
Children at risk of anaphylaxis will often be prescribed an epinephrine injector (such as an EpiPen) to be carried with them at all times and administered if necessary.
Your child’s pediatrician will likely work with you to develop a treatment plan to have on file at your child’s school along with their medicine.
Management of Food Allergies in Children
Some children with food allergies may outgrow them as they reach adulthood. For example, milk and egg allergies are typically outgrown during the school years.
This is not always the case, however. It is important to diagnose, track, and manage any food allergies under the supervision of your child’s pediatrician or allergist.
They can make suggestions for avoidance or building up a tolerance for the allergen(s) in question, as well as assess your child’s risk of having a severe anaphylactic reaction and prescribe necessary medications such as an EpiPen.
While food allergies currently cannot be cured, there are some ways parents can work to reduce their child’s chance of having an allergic reaction.
In some cases, your child’s IgE (immunoglobulin E) levels toward a particular allergen can be measured with a simple blood test. IgE is a type of antibodies that your body makes in response to an allergen. The higher the IgE level, the more severe the allergy and the more important it is to avoid exposure to that particular allergen. Monitoring IgE levels can help parents make decisions on whether or not your child can handle small amounts of the allergen or need to simply avoid an ingredient altogether.
Educating your children about their allergies is important to keep them safe as they grow up. Kids should be taught how to read food labels, tell an adult about their allergy, keep their EpiPen handy if necessary, and avoid the ingredients they are reactive to.
Prevention of Food Allergies in Children
Although controversial, there are strategies that some experts claim may help reduce the chances or severity of food allergies developing in your children. For example, a recent Swedish study suggests that the consumption of cow’s milk by breastfeeding mothers helped reduce the risk of childhood food allergies. Other suggestions include nursing for the first few months of life and not routinely avoiding common allergens in your baby’s diet, as was once recommended.