Food Allergies in Children

For many parents, at some point in their children’s lives, they will find themselves faced with the possibility that their child is allergic to one food or another. In the UK this is a fairly common occurrence with up to 8% of children being affected.

As with most allergies, if there is a history of allergies (such as asthma or hay ever) in the family then there is a much higher possibility of any children also suffering from food allergies.  IgE is the antibody associated with food allergies and can be measured quite easily with a simple skin prick test. As these reactions tend to occur rapidly after ingestion occurs, IgE levels will be acutely raised.

It is important to take care when a suspected food allergy arises because it might not be an allergy at all, but rather a food intolerance. Food intolerance tends to occur in younger children when the gut encounters a food it cannot digest properly. In most cases, upset tummy, bloating, wind, and even a skin rash can present as the symptoms. Blood tests and skin prick tests are not useful diagnostic tools for intolerance as the IgE levels are not affected. IgE levels will only rise when the immune system encounters what it thinks is a threat to the body.

Once suspected, a food allergy can be looked into by the child’s GP. If necessary, a specialist allergy doctor can then be contacted and help to design a proper course of treatment for your child. He will be able to suggest the best ways to help reduce or even eliminate the symptoms.

A very serious allergy can be diagnosed with blood or skin prick tests. Once the specific allergen is identified, changes to the child’s diet can be made so as to eliminate exposure to the food they are allergic to. Emergency plans can be devised in case of accidental ingestion to avoid anaphylactic shock. The specialist might discuss carrying an epi-pen (a single dose of emergency adrenaline to help keep the body from going into shock).

Most parents will find that the majority of accidents involving allergic reactions to food will occur when they eat outside the home. It can often be difficult to ensure no cross contamination of foodstuffs happens in restaurant kitchens, the most common culprit being peanuts. Don’t be afraid to ask the chef about special dietary needs. A few easy tips to help you deal with your child’s food allergy:

  • If you know that your child is at risk for developing a food allergy, delay solids until they are at least 6-7 months. Then start with cereals and soft vegetables, although peas and beans should be avoided. Next move on to meats and other sources of proteins once they reach 9-10 months.
  • If you happen to notice that your child suffers from certain symptoms after eating specific foods (eggs, fish, nuts and milk are the most common) then the best thing to do is avoid those foods.
  • Read the labels on food to ensure you are not accidentally exposing your child to hidden ingredients.
  • Remember that allergic responses occur after the child has been exposed to a food at least once. So while they may have eaten something before and not had a reaction, eating it again may cause the immune system to go into a full fledged allergic response.
  • Some experts advocate that cows milk is best avoided until at least 12 months, eggs 24 months and peanuts and some types of fish (i.e. shellfish) until 36 months.
  • When you do add new and different things to your child’s diet, do it slowly over a period of several days and watch closely for any adverse signs of an allergic reaction.

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Guide to Food Allergies