Childhood Food Allergies
Food allergies are relatively common in children in the United States. In fact, almost six million kids are allergic to some sort of food. Knowing the most common allergens, signs of an allergic reaction, and how to prevent them are critical to keeping children safe, both at home and at school. Fortunately, much is known about how to diagnose and work around food allergies in children.
A relatively small group of foods is responsible for ninety percent of allergic reactions in children. The most common types of food allergens for children are: milk, eggs, peanuts, soy, wheat, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish. Allergies are a product of the immune system attempting to protect the body by signaling for defense mechanisms that people interpret as symptoms. Phenomena like swelling and irritation are a product of the body attempting to “send help” to the affected area. As these present, allergies can be identified and reactions can be prevented as soon as possible.
Multiple types of doctors can be helpful in identifying children’s allergies. A pediatrician will typically be the first point of contact and may refer a child to an allergist. This clinician can perform several tests to determine the specific type of allergy affecting the child, and can diagnose as necessary. A doctor will typically check for signs of food intolerance as opposed to allergies. Intolerance can be unpleasant and typically affects the digestive system; it can present as abdominal discomfort, vomiting, or diarrhea, though there are no ties to the immune system. Other diseases that affect a body’s ability to process a certain type of food will be ruled out. For example, Celiac’s disease renders a body incapable of processing wheat. While the root cause of allergies is largely unknown aside from being connected to genetic predisposition, coming into contact with a particular allergen triggers an allergic reaction.
What Are the Symptoms of Food Allergies in Children?
Symptoms of allergies can include: skin reactions, digestive issues, respiratory issues, and anaphylactic shock.
These are the most common types of reactions, and should be interpreted preemptively as precursors to the possibility of a more serious reaction. Skin reactions include:
- swollen lips
- and red blisters around the mouth or on the face
While these symptoms can also accompany food intolerance as opposed to allergies, they should be investigated further if they appear apart from any other sort of reaction; assumptions should be avoided. Digestive reactions include:
- stomach ache
Allergic responses presenting as these respiratory symptoms should be investigated further:
- trouble breathing
- sinus difficulties
- passing out
This is a potentially life-threatening reaction that occurs when the body responds to an allergen by flooding it with a chemical response. Anaphylaxis effectively incorporates all the above responses at once. Treatment requires receiving epinephrine immediately.
How Are Allergies in Children Diagnosed?
When a child visits the doctor, there are several tests that can be done to determine the presence or absence of a food allergy. The first is a skin test. The doctor uses samples of each potential allergen and loads them into needles. All at once, the child is pricked with allergens. The child is monitored for signs of a reaction from any of the needle sticks, including anaphylactic shock. The second testing option happens via blood draw. Blood is examined for the presence of antigens that correspond to a particular food. If both tests are positive, the child can be diagnosed with a food allergy.
How Can You Prevent Food Allergies in Children?
Preventing allergic reactions is preferable. By avoiding foods that contain the allergen, there is less chance of a reaction occurring. Early in the child’s life during the nursing period, mother’s breast milk can strengthen the immune system by passing antibodies to the child. Following nursing, foods can be introduced to the child’s diet gradually so that any potential allergens can be clearly identified. Most children outgrow most food allergies. Generally, by the time a child turns five, they have outgrown any milk, wheat, or soy allergies; this happens eighty percent of the time. Sixty six percent of the time, egg allergies are outgrown. Statistics are lower when it comes to nuts. Only twenty percent of peanut allergies and ten percent of tree nut allergies dissolve by age five. There are no side effects of allergies beyond symptoms of an allergic reaction, but medications for treating symptoms do have side effects including drowsiness, sinus dryness, and more. Consult a pharmacist or physician regarding side effects related to specific medications.
What is the Treatment for Food Allergies in Children?
Although there are no remedies for an allergy itself, there are certainly medications to treat some of the symptoms of an allergic reaction. Antihistamines help to clear sinus congestion and improve breathing quality. Epinephrine is kept in devices called EpiPens, which can be stored at home or at school in case of an allergic reaction. There are now generic options for the EpiPen which can be less expensive but are just as effective. Left untreated, allergic reactions can progress to serious states. Particularly in the case of anaphylactic shock, there is a high probability of death without the requisite treatment. If the body responds to the supposed threat and is not treated with epinephrine, the response will continue and not only destroy the allergen, but other systems as well. In order to prevent as much harm as possible, take care to identify, diagnose, and prevent or treat allergic reactions with multiple precautions.
Truly, food allergies affect many children in the United States. Being aware of types, reaction symptoms, and how to go about diagnosing, preventing, and treating reactions could mean the difference between a child’s life and death. Education is the key to prevention. Taking a child to the doctor in order to determine type and severity of an allergy paves the way for being able to prevent reactions completely.