With so many stories about food allergies circulating in the media these days, you may wonder if food allergies in children are on the rise.
It’s important to know, though, that there are many milder types of food-related issues. Not every issue with food is the result of a food allergy.
Foods behind the most common food allergies in children include:
- Tree Nuts (walnuts, cashews, for example)
- Shellfish (shrimp, crab) and fish (salmon, haddock)
Although most severe reactions are caused by nuts and seafood, even certain vegetables and seeds (sesame) have been associated with allergic reactions.
How Do I Know If It’s a Food Allergy?
Food allergies trigger the immune system to wrongly react to a certain food as if it were a threat, and this reaction can cause a number of telltale food-allergy symptoms. Symptoms can be moderate, or life-threatening.
Here’s what to look out for:
One of the first things you may notice are rashes or changes in your child’s skin.
These rashes may look like multiple red spots (hives). Or, they could be patchy rashes that also itch (dermatitis). There may be swelling along with the rash, or there could be swelling with no rash.
Your child may have trouble breathing. This can include wheezing and sneezing. Your child may tell you that their throat is “tight.” Little children have trouble communicating what the problem is, so look for signs and symptoms of troubled breathing in your child.
Your child may also have problems with his or her stomach and digestive tract, including vomiting, diarrhea, and vomiting.
Your child may also develop problems with blood circulation. These dangerous symptoms can include “going pale,” feeling dizzy or light-headed or even blacking out.
When a child’s immune response to an allergen affects more than one part of his or her body, it can be deadly. This is called anaphylaxis. Call 911 if your child shows severe symptoms or multiple symptoms.
When It’s Not a Food Allergy
You may suspect a food allergy if your child develops problems with certain foods, even displaying signs that may accompany an allergic reaction. However, there could be other causes.
For example, while vomiting and diarrhea can occur with allergies, they may be caused by food poisoning, such as after eating dairy products that have been without refrigeration for a while, or after eating undercooked meat. Also, the caffeine found in sodas, sweet coffees and even some candy can make your child jittery or agitated.
Food intolerance can make your child sick but it differs from a food allergy because food intolerance does not involve the body’s immune system. Instead, food intolerance is related to a problem with the gastrointestinal tract’s ability to digest a particular food. Lactose intolerance is a common type of food intolerance. People who have lactose intolerance have trouble digesting the lactose (a sugar) found in milk. This can cause a stomachache and bloating.
What Can I Do?
Talk with your healthcare provider about any symptoms you have observed in your child. Even though many children outgrow allergies, some are more dangerous and longer-lasting than others. There are precautions to take and medicines that can be used in case of an exposure while away from home.
Children’s Health Care of Massachusetts (CHC Mass) was the nation’s first community health center to open its doors in Boston, providing health services for low- and moderate-income people in the inner city areas, and isolated rural communities. Child-centered and family-focused, CHC Mass is your family’s partner in health providing compassionate and personalized care for your whole child.
If you have questions about food allergies and how they can affect your child’s health, contact Children’s Health Care of Massachusetts for more information about how you can partner with CHC Mass to help your child achieve the healthiest childhood, possible.