Food Allergies in Children

May 3, 2022

A child’s body develops allergies to food when the body mistakenly recognizes the substances as harmful. The body’s immune system will begin to attack the food as an allergen, which triggers a chemical release of histamine. This histamine is what triggers the symptoms in the child’s body.

Symptoms and Signs of Food Allergies

The signs and symptoms of food allergies in children can vary greatly depending on the child, their age, and the function of their body. Symptoms may range from mild to severe.

Mild symptoms can include:

  • Skin rash and/or hives
  • Runny nose
  • Congestion
  • Tingling of the tongue, lips, and/or throat
  • Persistent coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Upset stomach
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • And more…

Severe symptoms can include:

  • Swelling of the lips, tongue, and/or throat
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Wheezing and/or shortness of breath (asthma)
  • Drop in blood pressure that may cause a child to feel faint, weak, or confused
  • Chest pain
  • Turning blue
  • Loss of consciousness
  • And more…

When an allergic reaction becomes severe, it is referred to as anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis can potentially be life-threatening. Several areas of the body may be affected, causing difficulty breathing. This requires immediate medical attention, and you should call 911.

Causes of Food Allergies in Children

90% of all reactions to food in children occur from these eight common allergens, but could be allergic to any number of foods:

  1. Milk
  2. Eggs
  3. Soy
  4. Wheat
  5. Peanut
  6. Tree Nuts – almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios, pine nuts, chestnuts, filberts/hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, and walnuts
  7. Fish
  8. Shellfish – shrimp, crab, crawfish, crawdad, crayfish, lobster and prawns

Children who are allergic to milk, eggs, soy, and wheat may outgrow the allergy. Outgrowing a nut or seafood allergy is far less common. Infants who are breastfeeding may experience allergic reactions to the food ingested by the mother.

Diagnosing Food Allergies

Dr Dave's Skin prick test (SPT)Positive Skin Prick Test (SPT)

In order to confirm a food allergy, your doctor may recommend additional testing which commonly includes:

  • Skin prick test (SPT): This test is commonly performed within a doctor’s office, and may provide results within about 30 minutes. A small amount of the food allergen is placed on the back or forearm of the child. The doctor then gently pricks or scratches the skin surface to see if a reaction occurs.
  • Blood test, also called the radioallergosorbent test (RAST): Tests for the antibodies that trigger allergy symptoms
  • Food challenge: The child is fed a small amount of the suspect food in and steadily increase doses in order to test for a reaction. The test is done in a controlled medical environment to allow the reaction to be immediately treated.
  • Food elimination diet: A short term (usually 2-4 weeks) period in which the suspect food is eliminated and possibly gradually reintroduced while symptoms are monitored.

Treatment of Food Allergies in Children

Treating a food allergy may involve avoiding the foods that contain the allergen causing the reaction. Unfortunately, there is currently not a cure for food allergies.

Milder symptoms may be treated using:

  • Antihistamines
  • Oral steroids
  • Topical steroids
  • Inhalers
  • Injectors (EpiPen)

You should speak with your child’s doctor about the best treatment methods for the child.

Managing Children’s Food Allergies

There are many steps you and your child can take to help manage your child’s food allergies. A successful management plan may include:

  • Read food labels carefully to avoid the allergen
  • Informing all caretakers of the allergy
  • Wearing a medical alert I.D.
  • Having medication available at all times
  • Taking medication as soon as a reaction occurs

You should discuss developing an emergency plan for you and your child with your doctor.

Gastrointestinal Disorders and Food Allergies

Food allergies, over time, may lead to more serious gastrointestinal (GI) disorders. If you are concerned about the recurring symptoms your child is experiencing, you should discuss these with your doctor. Gastroenterologists are specially trained to identify, prevent, and treat gastrointestinal disorders.

Food Intolerance vs. Food Allergy

Food intolerance and food allergies are often confused. They often have similar symptoms, but while food intolerance may cause discomfort, it will not trigger an immune response. Common symptoms of food intolerance may include:

  • Burping
  • Gas
  • Indigestion
  • Loose stools
  • Feelings of nervousness
  • Feeling flushed
  • Headaches