Common Food Allergies

You may not realize this, but food allergies in children are extremely common. This is why the experts recommend parents introduce solids one food at time, holding off on certain foods until your little one is older. Between 2 and 4% of children experience some form of food allergies. Most children will out grow their food allergy by the age of four or five. However, some allergies, like those to peanuts, tree nuts and shellfish, can stay with your child throughout their life.

What is an Allergy?
An allergy is an abnormal response by your body to a particular food or other irritant, like dust or animal dander. Basically, your body's immune system overreacts to the irritant and responds by producing histamines. These histamines will cause a reaction. The most common allergic reactions to food are vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, hives, swelling, eczema, itching or swelling of the lips, tongue or mouth, itching or tightening of the throat, difficulty breathing, wheezing, and lowered blood pressure. A more serious reaction can cause a life-threatening anaphylactic shock.

Allergy Overview
About 90% of all food allergies are caused by milk, eggs, wheat, soy, tree nuts, peanuts, fish and shellfish. Since these foods are the common culprits in children's food allergies, they shouldn't be introduced into your toddler's menu until your little one is at least a year old. Many experts recommend waiting until your child is three before you introduce peanuts to their diets.

Milk, eggs and peanuts are the most common food allergies while fish, shellfish, tree nuts and peanuts can cause the most severe reaction. However, a child will most likely not have an allergic reaction the first time they try a food. It may not be until the second or third time they try the offending item before they show any signs of an allergy. Therefore, when you start introducing new foods into your toddlers diet, do so one at a time, for a few days. This way, if a reaction does develop, you can easily identify which food caused it.

While any child can develop a food allergy, a family history of allergies increases your child's risk of developing some sort of allergy.

Allergy vs Intolerance
Milk is the most common food allergy in children although most outgrow this allergy by age three. But how do you know if your child is allergic to milk or just lactose intolerant?

The most frequent signs that a child is allergic to milk are colic, poor growth or having blood in their stools. This is their body's immune system responding to the milk. Your child can have a reaction even if just a little milk was consumed.

A child who is lactose intolerant will often feel gassy, have diarrhea or constipation after consuming some milk or ice cream. This reaction is caused by their body's inability to digest the lactose found in dairy products. Someone who is lactose intolerant may be able to consume small amounts of dairy without any problems.

If your child is allergic to milk (or even if they are lactose intolerant), switching to soymilk should solve your problem. However, some children are also allergic to soymilk, in which case your toddler's health care provider can suggest a hypoallergenic formula that should be safe for your toddler to drink.

Severe Allergies
While it is always possible to develop a severe allergy to any food, shellfish, tree nuts and peanuts are the most common serious food allergies. Peanuts tend to pose the biggest problem with children, not only because a peanut allergy can potentially be life-threatening, but because peanuts and peanut butter are a common staple in children's lunches.

Due to the seriousness of peanut allergies, many schools have either banned or placed limits on their students' ability to bring peanut items to school. For people who are severely allergic, it can take very little to cause a serious, life-threatening reaction. Children with peanut allergies can experience anaphylactic shock just because the knife used to make their jam sandwich had been in the peanut butter jar beforehand.

Anaphylactic Shock
Anaphylactic shock is a potentially fatal allergic reaction that is often caused by peanuts as well as certain allergies to medications or insect bites. Anaphylactic shock affects the respiratory system. This can cause swelling in the throat, a sudden drop in blood pressure and possibly fainting. A severe reaction can cause death within minutes.

People with serious allergies should carry an emergency kit with epinephrine, which is also known as an epi-pen. This is a shot of adrenaline that, when injected into a persons thigh, will stop the reaction. However, an epi-pen needs to be prescribed by a professional.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for food allergies other than avoiding the offending item. As long as your child is not severely allergic, you may want to try reintroducing food that your child has had a mild reaction to after a few months or a year. Often, by the age of four or five, many children have outgrown their food allergies and can consume an item that previously caused them problems. However, if you suspect that your child may have a serious food allergy, it is a good idea to have them checked out by a specialist. A professional should diagnose all serious food allergies.