Your child's immune system fights off infections and other dangers to keep him or her healthy. When your child's immune system senses that a food or something in a food is a "danger" to your child's health, your child has a food allergy reaction. Your child's immune system sends out immunoglobulin E or IgE antibodies. These react to the food or substance in the food. Histamines are released. This can cause hives, asthma, itching in the mouth, trouble breathing, stomach pains, vomiting, or diarrhea. It does not take much of the food to cause a severe reaction in highly allergic children.
Most food allergies are caused by these foods:
Eggs, milk, and peanuts are the most common causes of food allergies in children. Although most children “outgrow” their allergies, some food allergies may be life long.
Discuss your child's food allergies with his or her allergy healthcare provider.
Allergic symptoms may begin within minutes to an hour after eating the food. Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each child. They can include:
Allergies to milk and soy are usually seen in infants and young children. These symptoms often are not like the symptoms of other allergies. Instead they may include:
It does not take much of the food to cause a very bad reaction in highly allergic children. In fact, a tiny piece of a peanut can cause a reaction in a child that is highly allergic.
The symptoms of a food, milk, or soy allergy may look like other health problems. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction. It is life-threatening. Symptoms can include:
Your child's healthcare provider will make the diagnosis based on a physical exam and a thorough health history. This history should include a list of foods that were eaten before the allergic symptoms.
The healthcare provider will do some tests to make an exact diagnosis. These tests may include the following.
The skin prick test is a very accurate test that measures your child’s level of IgE antibodies in response to certain allergens or triggers. Using small amounts of solutions that contain different allergens, your child’s healthcare provider will either give a shot of the solution under the skin or put it on with a small scratch. A reaction would appear as a small red area. A reaction to the skin prick test does not always mean your child is allergic to the allergen that caused the reaction. Skin prick testing may not be done on children who have had a severe life-threatening reaction to an allergen or have severe dry skin (eczema).
Blood tests for allergies measure IgE antibodies to specific allergens in the blood. The blood test most commonly used is called a radioallergosorbent test or RAST. Blood tests may be used when skin tests can’t be done. As with skin testing, it is important to remember that a positive blood test does not always mean your child is allergic to that allergen. A newer type of blood test is called an ELISA test.
This test is given by an allergist. He or she administers a very small amount of an allergen by mouth. The allergen can also be inhaled.
There is no medicine to prevent food allergy in children. The goal of treatment is to stay away from the foods that cause the symptoms. It's very important that your child not eat these foods or other similar foods in that food group. If you are breastfeeding your child, it's important to stay away from foods in your diet that your child is allergic to. Small amounts of the food allergen may be passed on to your child through your breastmilk and cause a reaction.
It is important to give vitamins to your child if he or she is unable to eat certain foods. Discuss this with your child’s healthcare provider.
For a child who has had a severe food reaction, the provider may prescribe an emergency kit that contains epinephrine. This helps stop the symptoms of severe reactions. Your child's healthcare provider can teach you how to use it.
Some children may be given certain foods again after 3 to 6 months to see if he or she has outgrown the allergy. This is done under the direction of the healthcare provider. Many allergies may be short-term in children, and the food may be tolerated after the age of 3 or 4.
If your child is allergic to milk, treatment may include changing your baby’s formula to a soy formula. If your child has problems with soy formula, your child’s healthcare provider might suggest an easily digested hypoallergenic formula.
The development of food allergies can’t be prevented. But it can often be delayed in children by doing the following:
Living with food allergies means staying away from what your child is allergic to. For some children, simply touching the allergen can give them an allergic reaction. Although families can remove the allergen from their home, dining out can be challenging.
Another tip for dining out is to carry a food allergy card. You can give it your server or the manager before you order food for your child. A food allergy card contains information about the specific items your child is allergic to. It also has additional information such as a reminder to make sure all utensils and equipment used to prepare the meal are thoroughly cleaned before use. You can easily print these cards yourself using a computer and printer.
If your child is eating out with friends and you are not going to be present, give your child a food allergy card (or make sure the adult in charge has one) to give to the server.
Discuss your child’s food allergy with his or her school. Using some of the above strategies at school can be helpful. You may be surprised by how many children at your school have the same or similar allergies.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
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