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Before having a food allergy reaction, a sensitive child must have eaten the food at least once before. It is the second time the child eats the food that the allergic symptoms happen. At that time, when Immunoglobulin E or IgE antibodies react with 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.
Almost all food allergies are caused by 8 foods:
Eggs, milk, and peanuts are the most common causes of food allergies in children. Peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish usually cause the most severe reactions. Although most children “outgrow” their allergies, allergy to peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish may be life long.
Nearly 5% of children under age 5 have food allergies. From 1997 to 2007, food allergies increased 18% among children under age 18.
Allergic symptoms may begin within minutes to an hour after eating the food. The most common symptoms are:
Allergies to milk and soy are usually seen in infants and young children. Often, these symptoms are unlike the symptoms of other allergies, but, rather, may include the following:
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 an allergic reaction in a child that is highly allergic.
The symptoms of a food, milk, or soy allergy may look like other medical problems. Always see your child’s healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
Typically, the diagnosis is made by your child’s healthcare provider based on a physical exam and a thorough medical history. This medical 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:
There is no medicine to prevent food allergy in children. The goal of treatment is to avoid the foods that cause the symptoms. After seeing your child’s healthcare provider and finding out which foods your child is allergic to, 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 the food allergen may be passed on to your child through your breast milk and cause a reaction.
It is important to give vitamins to your child if he or she is unable to eat certain foods. Talk this over with your child’s healthcare provider.
For children who have had a severe food reaction, your child’s healthcare 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, under the direction of his or her healthcare provider, may be given certain foods again after 3 to 6 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.
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. However, it can often be delayed in children by doing the following:
Living with food allergies means avoiding 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 you are allergic to. It also has additional information such as a reminder to make sure all utensils and equipment used to prepare your 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.
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