Your immune system protects you from harmful pathogens, like viruses or bacteria. But, sometimes, your immune system goes haywire and identifies a food as a potential danger. This results in a food allergy where your immune system reacts in a way to protect you from the perceived danger.
Food allergies affect about 8% of children. Symptoms often show up in babies or children, but really can occur at any time.
Food allergy symptoms can show up as mild or severe. In some cases, food allergies can cause life-threatening anaphylaxis.
At First Pediatric Care Center in Gastonia, North Carolina, our pediatrician, Dr. Margaret Lubega, specializes in identifying, monitoring, and treating food allergies. Here’s what she wants you to know about the symptoms of food allergies, and when you should be sure to get emergency help.
Common food allergies
Any food can cause an allergy, but the most common allergens are:
- Tree nuts
Sesame is also a common allergen and will be on labels as such starting in 2023. In 90% of cases of food allergies, one of these foods is the cause.
Symptoms of food allergies
Food allergies don’t only show up as gastrointestinal symptoms. Your child’s immune system may react by affecting many other systems of the body, including the skin, respiratory tract, and cardiovascular system.
Food allergies can cause:
- Hives or a rash
- Vomiting or stomach cramps
- Shortness of breath
- Trouble swallowing
- Swelling of the tongue
- Weak pulse
- Pale skin
These symptoms usually show up within a couple hours of eating the offending food. Sometimes, symptoms appear within just a few minutes.
It’s rare, but food-allergy symptoms can be delayed 4-6 hours or longer. In these cases, the symptoms are usually in kids who develop eczema as a food allergy symptom.
Symptoms can also worsen over time. At first, your child may have a very mild reaction to a certain food, only to find that it becomes more severe each time they eat the reactive food.
Deadly food allergies
Anaphylaxis is a potentially deadly reaction to a food. It may cause tongue and airway swelling that interferes with the ability to breathe and sends the body into shock. Other symptoms of anaphylactic shock include dramatic drop in blood pressure and changes in heart rate.
Typically, symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction occur within a few minutes of exposure to a trigger food. If not treated promptly, anaphylaxis can be fatal.
Treating food allergies
Avoiding foods to which your child is allergic is the best way to prevent symptoms. Dr. Lubega can help you figure out foods to avoid and how to make dietary substitutions, if needed. She’ll also help you learn how to decipher the allergy information on food labels.
Treatment for anaphylaxis is a shot of adrenaline using an epinephrine pen. If your child has a severe allergy that could cause anaphylactic shock, we prescribe epinephrine pens for you to have nearby at all times. It’s a good idea to carry one with you, to have one with their teacher or school nurse, and, when old enough, to carry one themselves at all times. Use the epinephrine pen at the first sign of allergy symptoms.
Dr. Lubega teaches you how to use your auto-injector. And if your child is of school age, she can help you create an emergency action plan for preventing, recognizing, and managing food allergies when at school or on field trips or sports trips.
If you suspect your child has a food allergy, call us at First Pediatric Care Center to get them tested. We can help you manage their allergy so they can live a normal, healthy life.