Food Allergies in Children

There are plenty of foods that kids don’t like. But if your child has food allergies, some can literally make them sick.

Food allergies happen when the body's immune system thinks something your child has eaten is harmful, so it responds with symptoms that can range from mild to severe or even life-threatening. About four out of 100 children have a food allergy.

The most common food allergies are:

  • Peanuts
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Wheat
  • Soy
  • Tree nuts such as cashews and walnuts
  • Fish
  • Seafood

Symptoms of a Food Allergy

Because the immune system doesn’t become sensitized to a food until after the first exposure, allergy symptoms usually don’t occur until the child has consumed that food several times. However, breastfeeding babies who are exceptionally sensitive may have allergic reactions to foods their mother eats.

Food allergy symptoms may start right after eating or may take up to an hour. The most common include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Blood in the stool
  • Cramps
  • Colic
  • Hives or swelling
  • Eczema
  • Itchy or swollen tongue, mouth or lips
  • Itchy or tight throat
  • Difficulty breathing or wheezing
  • Low blood pressure

Very young kids who cannot describe their symptoms may:

  • Scratch their lips or throat
  • Pull at their tongues
  • Put their hands in their mouths

In severe cases, food allergies can cause anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening reaction that can hinder breathing and may lead to shock. Anaphylaxis requires immediate medical treatment (see epinephrine below).

Diagnosing Potential Food Allergies

If you suspect your child may have a food allergy, call Mercy Kids for an evaluation. Our pediatricians and pediatric allergists specialize in managing all kinds of food allergies in babies and children, and can help determine which foods bother your child.

After a physical exam, we may recommend additional methods to identify “problem foods” such as:

  • Keeping a food diary tracking what your child eats and when they have reactions.
  • Performing a skin-prick test to see your child’s reaction to different foods.
  • Testing your child’s blood for antibodies that indicate allergies to specific foods.
  • Putting your child on an “elimination diet” that cuts outs certain foods to see how your child responds.

Managing Food Allergies

Unfortunately, food allergies can’t be treated – but they can be managed to minimize or prevent reactions.

  • Dietary changes: We’ll let you know which foods your child should avoid. If your baby has food allergies and you are breastfeeding, you’ll need to avoid problem foods also.
  • Epinephrine: Epinephrine is an injectable form of adrenaline used to stop a severe allergic reaction in an emergency. If your child has life-threatening food allergies, your Mercy pediatrician may recommend that you or your child carry epinephrine at all times.

Children sometimes outgrow milk and egg allergies, but allergies to nuts and shellfish usually last a lifetime. Depending on your child’s allergies, your pediatrician may suggest re-testing for allergies when they are older.

In the meantime, we’ll help you and your child learn to manage the allergy and eat safely and enjoyably.

Resources

Mercy's Dr. Katcher discusses common symptoms that are experienced with food allergies.

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