Food allergies in children are becoming more and more common these days. According to experts and statistics, 1 in every 13 children has a food allergy. An allergy is a protective reaction of the body.
With a food allergy, the body perceives a given food as dangerous for it. As a result, the immune system forms antibodies. These antibodies must fight the allergen.
Most often, children develop a food allergy by the age of 3. Usually, these allergies outgrow by the age of seven.
It is because of these food allergies that great care is taken when offering a new food to a baby or toddler. Experts recommend that when an allergen is given for the first time, three days need to pass before introducing a new allergen. During this time, you need to observe for a reaction to it.
Children can be allergic to any food, but the most common allergies are to the following foods:
- Nuts (nuts like cashews, almonds, pistachios, etc.)
Cow's milk allergy occurs most often in infants before solid foods are introduced. Usually, children are more sensitive to allergens of animal origin (cow's milk, eggs, fish), but these food allergies can disappear in adulthood. Allergies that tend to last a lifetime are allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish, seafood and sesame seeds.
Allergy to nuts, peanuts, fish and seafood is often involved in anaphylactic reactions.
Eggs - in early childhood they are the most common allergen. This allergy also increases with age. Eggs are an essential ingredient in many foods. If your child has an egg allergy, or you have doubts about it, you should be careful what you offer them to eat. Eggs remain hidden in many baby foods and parents are unaware of their content.
Cow's milk protein - 2-3% of children have an allergy to cow's milk protein. This allergy usually grows with age.
Fish - allergy to fish is common during childhood. Unlike an allergy to eggs and cow's milk protein, this allergy cannot be outgrown.
Peanuts - an increasingly common food allergy in children. Peanut allergy does not go away with age and is lifelong.
Soy - babies and children who are allergic to cow's butter protein very often also have allergy to soy.
Walnuts - they can also cause a food allergy. The nut allergy doesn't go away with age.
Wheat - the allergic reaction to wheat is one of the most severe and dangerous. This allergic reaction is even life-threatening.
According to recent studies, in early childhood, the body can be "trained" not to react to an allergen. This is done through frequent consumption of an allergen. This way, when the child grows up, they will not have an allergy to this allergen.
Some people who know they are allergic to a certain food prefer to refrain from consuming products from the same family. There are food allergies to substances that are chemically similar. A person allergic to cow's milk is likely to be allergic to goat's milk due to the similarity of their proteins.
However, it is best to consult a doctor before making such a decision, as excluding foods can create deficiencies. Skin tests reveal cross-allergies.
What are the symptoms of food allergies in children?
The nature and intensity of food allergy symptoms in children varies from person to person. Before any diagnosis is made, your role as a parent involves carefully observing anything that seems "abnormal" in the child's reactions. Symptoms appear on the skin in most cases as redness, but sometimes take other forms:
- skin symptoms: itching, rash, redness, swelling of the lips, face and limbs;
- respiratory symptoms: wheezing, swelling of the throat, difficulty breathing, suffocation;
- digestive symptoms: abdominal cramps, diarrhea, colic, nausea and vomiting;
- cardiovascular symptoms: pallor, weak pulse, dizziness, loss of consciousness.
In the case of an anaphylactic reaction, the symptoms must be very pronounced. Usually more than one system is affected (skin, respiratory, digestive, cardiovascular) and there is a decrease in blood pressure. This may cause the child to lose consciousness. If several areas of the body are affected, the reaction can be severe or even life-threatening.
How is food allergy diagnosed in a child?
The pediatrician will have a conversation about personal and family history: you will be asked about the onset of symptoms, the contents of meals and snacks of the child etc.
If necessary, they will refer you to a specialist for an allergological evaluation after a skin test or a serological test - which measures the amount of antibodies (IgE) specific to a certain food product in a blood sample.
How are food allergies treated in children?
There are no cures for food allergies, or at least not for a complete cure. The best way to prevent allergic reactions is to avoid the foods, which cause it. Parents of allergic children are advised to contact their doctor to help them create a balanced diet for the child. This is important in order not to develop nutritional deficiencies due to the elimination of a certain type of food and to avoid the risk of eating disorders.
In case of minor reactions, antihistamines can help reduce symptoms. These medications can be taken after exposure to foods that cause allergies to relieve redness and soothe itching or hives. However, antihistamines cannot treat a severe allergic reaction. Instead, corticosteroids are used for more severe swelling and itching.
Protecting the child from an allergic reaction
Food allergies in children are a big challenge for many kids and as a parent you are their main advocate.
It's normal to be worried about your child's food allergies, but there are steps you can take to help them:
Always read the label of a food product to make sure it does not contain an ingredient to which your child is allergic to. Even if you feel you know what ingredients a food product is made of, the label should be checked. Food labels need to clearly state whether they contain common food allergens.
In restaurants, tell the waiter from the start about the food allergy your child suffers from. They should know how each dish is prepared and what ingredients are used. Ask about dishes and ingredients before ordering. If the waiter does not know how to answer your questions, ask to speak to the manager or the chef.
Before it's time for school, you need to teach your child to be able to say NO when offered food. Children need to understand that they can only eat food that is safe for them. Show them that there is always an alternative, a change, or a replacement for forbidden foods.