A food allergy is an abnormal response of the body to a certain food. It is important to know that this is different than a food intolerance, which does not affect the immune system, although some of the same symptoms may be present.
What Causes food allergies? Before having a food allergy reaction, a sensitive child must have been exposed to the food at least once before, or could also be sensitized through breast milk. It is the second time your child eats the food that the allergic symptoms happen.
About 3% of infants have food allergies and about 9% of 1-year-olds. Symptoms appear quickly after eating foods such as milk, eggs, nuts, and fish.
Approximately 90 percent of all food allergies are caused by the following eight foods:
- Tree nuts
Eggs, milk, and peanuts are the most common causes of food allergies in children, with wheat, soy, and tree nuts also included. Peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish commonly cause the most severe reactions.
What are the symptoms of food allergy?
Allergic symptoms may begin within minutes to an hour after ingesting the food. The following are the most common symptoms of food allergy. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
- Itching or swelling of the lips, tongue, or mouth
- Itching or tightness in the throat
- Difficulty breathing
- Lowered blood pressure
The symptoms of the food allergy may resemble other problems or medical conditions. Always consult your child’s doctor for a diagnosis.
Treatment for food allergy
There is no medication to prevent food allergies. The goal of treatment is to avoid the foods that cause the symptoms. After seeing your child’s doctor and finding foods to which your child is allergic, it is very important to avoid these foods and other similar foods in that food group. If you are breastfeeding your child, it is important to avoid foods in your diet to which your child is allergic. Small amounts of food allergen may be transmitted to your child through your breast milk and cause a reaction.
It is also important to give vitamins and minerals to your child if he or she is unable to eat certain foods. Discuss this with your child’s doctor.
For children who have had a severe food reaction, your child’s health care provider may prescribe an emergency kit that contains epinephrine, which helps stop the symptoms of severe reactions. Consult your child’s doctor for further information.
Some children, under the direction of their health care provider, may be given certain foods again after three to six months to see if he or she has outgrown the allergy. Many allergies may be short-term in children and the food may be tolerated after the age of 3 or 4.
Prevention of food allergies
The development of food allergies cannot be prevented, but can often be delayed in infants by following these recommendations:
- If possible, breastfeed your infant for the first six months.
- Do not give solid foods until your child is 6 months of age or older.
- Avoid cow’s milk, wheat, eggs, peanuts, and fish during your child’s first year of life.