Common Childhood Food Allergies
In any discussion of common childhood food allergies, peanuts are sure spring to mind as the worst offender. However, kid food allergies can include a whole array of things such as milk, soy, tree nuts, eggs, shellfish, even strawberries. While experts advise us to expose children to a wide range of healthy foods to expand their palates and even prevent allergies, there is always the chance of an unexpected and adverse reaction, especially today when so many children suffer from nut allergies, gluten allergies, dairy or milk allergies and citrus allergies.
How is an Allergy Different than a Sensitivity
The good news, according to The Journal of the American Medical Association, is that only 8% of kids have true food allergies. So how is an allergy different than a sensitivity? A true allergic reaction involves a response from the immune system and happens within a few minutes to an hour of eating a particular food. In extreme cases, even touching or smelling the food can cause a reaction.
The immune system perceives the food as harmful and launches an attack by releasing histamine, almost like the body’s own little chemical weapon. Histamine causes inflammation, which then causes symptoms like itching, hives, wheezing, and in the worst case scenario, anaphylaxis, causing the airway to restrict. Anaphylaxis can be life-threatening. If your child has trouble breathing for any reason, you should seek immediate medical attention.
Difference Between Food Sensitivity and Food Allergy
A food sensitivity or food intolerance, on the other hand, may be more difficult to diagnose. Some parents might assume that any adverse reaction to food can be ascribed to kid food allergies. But if your child complains of a tummy ache a few hours after eating a banana split, it’s not time to start throwing out the bananas and milk. It’s probably not an allergic reaction. It’s more likely a one-time occurrence and nothing to worry about.
However, when a person consistently has an unpleasant reaction to the same food, it may be a food sensitivity or intolerance. The reaction doesn’t involve the child's immune system, but more often manifests itself as nausea, acid reflux, diarrhea or just plain feeling unwell. Common food sensitivities are dairy, gluten and preservatives or additives.
What to Do If Your Child's Food Sensitivity is Consistent
If you suspect your child is having a negative reaction to any sort of food, it’s important to talk to a doctor. While some parents find it helpful to test the allergy by eliminating certain foods, The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network does not recommend removing a food from your child’s diet without first seeking medical advice.
The only way to know for sure whether your son or daughter is suffering from common childhood food allergies, a food sensitivity or something else is to consult with your child’s pediatrician. Your pediatrician can also help you find an pediatric allergy specialist if it is warranted. They will help you with specific tests and tools to figure out exactly what is bothering your child and why.
Thankfully, parents, caregivers and teachers are becoming much more aware of kid food allergies and can work together to manage them successfully.