What All Parents Should Know About Food Allergies

Food allergies have become much more common in the past several years. Thanks to the internet and social media, we are also much more aware of them causing many daycare centers, childcare providers and schools to ban the most common allergenic foods. And for good reason.

An estimated 1 in 13 school-age children are allergic to at least one food. Kids with food allergies are at increased risk of exposure to these foods in a school setting whether foods have been banned or not. As a parent, it is natural for you to worry but educating yourself is the first step to protecting your child from food allergies.

What is a food allergy?

A food allergy, much like seasonal allergies, is a medical condition in which exposure to a food triggers a harmful immune response that stimulates the release of histamines. This immune response, also called an allergic reaction, occurs because the immune system attacks proteins in the food that are normally harmless. The proteins that trigger the reaction are called allergens.

Many food intolerances are often mistaken for food allergies. Typically a food allergy will cause a rapid onset of symptoms within minutes or up to 1-2 hours after eating a food. These symptoms may include:

  • Hives
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Congestion
  • Cough
  • Wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling of the tongue, mouth or face
  • Low blood pressure
  • Loss of consciousness

About 40% of children with food allergies have experienced a severe allergic reaction such as anaphylaxis which can be life-threatening.

What are the most common food allergies?

The following eight foods account for over 90% of all food allergies.

  • Cow’s Milk
  • Eggs
  • Tree nuts, such as almonds, cashews, pine nuts, walnuts, pistachios
  • Peanuts
  • Shellfish
  • Wheat
  • Soy
  • Fish

Of these, cow’s milk, eggs and wheat are the most common food allergies among young children. However, in many cases, they tend to resolve as children get older.

An estimated 80% of children with allergies to tree nuts, peanuts, fish and/or shellfish have potential to be allergic to them for the duration of their life.

How are food allergies diagnosed?

It can be difficult to tell the difference between a food intolerance and a true food allergies. If you think your child has a food allergy, it is important to speak to his or her pediatrician. It may be helpful to keep a food log and note any symptoms that you notice in order to prepare for your appointment.

There are several diagnostic tests your child’s doctor may perform to confirm the diagnosis of a food allergy. These may include:

  • Dietary review: This is where that food log will come in handy. Your doctor will review the foods eaten, the time of day they were consumed and any symptoms that were experienced to look for patterns or noticeable triggers.
  • Skin prick testing: Using a tiny needle, a small amount of food is “pricked” into the skin then monitored for a reaction. With this test, several foods or triggers may be tested at one time.
  • Oral food challenge: If a particular problem food is suspected, eating the food in gradually increasing amounts under medical supervision in a controlled environment such as a doctor’s office can help confirm a food allergy.
    Blood test: A blood test may be conducted to measure the levels of immunoglobulin E (IgE) that are present.

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