Almost 5% of children younger than 5 years old have food allergies. Most of these kids outgrow the allergies as they get older. But for right now, you need a trusted provider to help you identify food allergies and offer treatment if a reaction should happen.
At First Pediatric Care Center in Gastonia, North Carolina, our pediatrician, Margaret Lubega, MD, provides advanced testing when a food allergy is suspected.
Here’s what you need to know about food allergies and their prevention and treatment.
Most common food allergies
Children are most often allergic to milk, eggs, and peanuts. Wheat, soy, and tree nuts are also common triggers.The most severe reactions result from peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish.
If your child is just beginning to eat solid foods, Dr. Lubega gives you guidance on how and when to introduce these potentially triggering foods to detect allergies and observe possible reactions.
When to suspect a food allergy
Food allergies may start almost immediately after a child eats the trigger food, although some allergies can take hours to develop.
Common symptoms of a food allergy include:
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Abdominal cramps
- Hives or a skin rash (eczema)
- Swelling of the tongue, lips, or mouth
- Itching in the throat
- Trouble breathing
- Low blood pressure
Infants and small children who have an allergy to milk or soy may be colicky, fail to thrive (grow), or have blood in their stool.
If your child has a severe allergy, even a tiny amount of the offending food can cause a reaction. Severe allergies may result in anaphylaxis, a sudden and severe allergic reaction that can cause difficulty breathing. Without immediate treatment, anaphylaxis can cause death.
Allergies are not an intolerance
It’s important to make a distinction between a food allergy and intolerance. Allergies trigger an abnormal response in the immune system, causing the uncomfortable symptoms that can sometimes be life-threatening.
Food intolerances can cause uncomfortable symptoms, too, but they don’t involve the immune system.
An allergy to wheat is also different from celiac disease. Celiac disease is not an allergy per se, but an autoimmune disorder in which your child’s body actually attacks the tiny fingerlike villi in the gut that help with nutrient absorption. If you child has celiac disease, they cannot have wheat, barley, or rye in any form.
Can food allergies be avoided?
Dr. Lubega recommends some strategies to help your child avoid developing a sensitivity to certain foods. If it’s possible, commit to breastfeeding your infant for at least the first 6 months or as long as you’re comfortable doing so.
Avoid starting solid foods, including simple cereals, until your baby is six months old or older. Many experts say not to give your child wheat, eggs, peanuts, cow’s milk, and fish during their first year of life. Introduce these foods gradually, and just one item at a time, so you can observe your child’s reaction and be confident about what food caused any problem.
Treatment for food allergies
Dr. Lubega works with you to develop an allergy management plan, which usually involves identifying and avoiding foods that contain the trigger food. If your child has a severe allergic reaction to specific foods and is at risk of anaphylaxis, they may need to carry an injectable epinephrine pen to prevent serious complications.
If you’re concerned about your child having food allergies, don’t hesitate to contact First Pediatric Care Center. Your child’s health and wellness is our priority.