Food allergies in children continue to increase, with nearly 5 percent of children under the age of 5 years old having a food allergy.
These allergies are the body’s negative immune reaction to food, occurring generally after the second time eating a particular item. Though similar symptoms may develop, food allergies are different than food intolerance. A true food allergy occurs when the immune system produces Immunoglobulin E antibodies to react with the food, releasing histamines into the bloodstream and causing allergic symptoms. Food intolerance generally results in less serious symptoms, often digestive.
Almost all food allergies are caused by milk, eggs, wheat, soy, tree nuts, peanuts, fish or shellfish. The most common causes of food allergy in children are eggs, milk and peanuts. Though each child experiences symptoms differently, shellfish, tree nuts and peanuts are linked with the most severe reactions. These reactions can appear minutes to an hour after consuming the food and can include vomiting, diarrhea and cramps. Other symptoms include difficulty breathing and lowered blood pressure. Skin can also be affected from hives to itching, swelling or tightness of the lips, tongue, mouth or throat.
Allergies to milk and soy are often seen in infants and young children and can look like other health conditions. Symptoms of these food allergies include blood in the stool, colic or fussy behavior and poor growth.
No medication has been proven to prevent food allergies in children. Health care providers perform a variety of tests along with a physical exam and health history to determine foods causing symptoms of allergy. Once identified, these foods must be avoided and an emergency kit containing epinephrine may be prescribed. Many children do outgrow food allergies — though peanut, tree nut and shellfish allergies can last a lifetime.