We end our series today with an overview of food allergies. Today’s children suffer from more food allergies than ever before. Parents need to be extra cautious about food choices. What can we do to find out if our child has an allergy and how can we deal with it?
Roughly 12 million Americans, adults and children, suffer from food allergies. The number for school aged children is about 2.2 million. These numbers have risen dramatically in just the past decade. During this time, the occurrence of peanut allergies in children has doubled!
Food Allergy or Food Intolerance
To determine what exactly we are dealing with, we first need to learn the distinction between a food allergy and a food intolerance. In each case, the person is sensitive to a food. Here is the difference: a food allergy is an immune response to food that our bodies mistake for a harmful substance while a food intolerance is an adverse reaction to food that does not involve the immune system.
Unfortunately, there is quite a bit of confusion and disagreement surrounding food sensitivities. There are however a two accepted generalizations that can help:
- Food sensitivity is more common in young children
- There is a genetic factor associated with all allergies
The most important thing you can do if you suspect that your child may have an allergy or sensitivity is to work with a board certified allergist, specifically one that is a member of the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology (AAAAI). Click here to learn more.
There are generally two types of food sensitivities and we can differentiate them by how the body reacts to them.
The first is called IgE-mediated. IgE is a chemical of the immune system – essentially an antibody. The body increases its production of IgE when it senses a foreign body, known as an antigen. The second type of sensitivity is known as “Immune Complex/Delayed Hypersensitivity”. This type can cause gluten-sensitive reactions.
The most common allergies among children include cow’s milk, egg, peanut, wheat, soy, tree nuts and fish. Most kids outgrown their sensitivity to milk, egg, wheat and soy by the age of 7. But some do not.
Let’s look at food intolerance. There are three classifications:
- Metabolic – an example is lactose intolerance, which is not immune responsive;
- Pharmacological – these are caused by chemical reactions, an example of which is migraines;
- Toxic – these are protective reactions, meaning our bodies expel toxics, for example, through vomiting
Here is a simple breakdown of foods that can cause reactions:
- Cow’s Milk
- Tree Nuts
What are the symptoms of food hypersensitivity?
There can be many, but here are the most common:
- Urticaria (hives)
- Angioedema (the throat closes up)
- Rhinitis (sinus congestion)
- Anaphylaxis (potentially fatal)
- Celiac Disease
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
This list is not exclusive and often these symptoms can indicate other allergies. Some symptoms may occur immediately while others have a delayed onset. That is why is important to consult with an AAAAI allergist and get to the bottom of it.
Once a child has been professionally diagnosed, the treatment will follow a strict elimination of the potential food allergens. It is also recommended that your child receive an annual nutritional assessment to monitor growth patterns and ensure that adequate nutrients are provided (learn more about nutrition and children’s growth here).
Is it possible to prevent childhood food allergies? Studies have shown that children with a genetic history of allergies who are put on a prevention regimen will see a decreased chance of developing food allergies. If you have any family history, start right away!
Watching our kids suffer through food intolerance and sensitivities can be stressful and disheartening. I hope this post gives you a good place to start if you are facing this problem. You can also check out the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), a non-profit organization that helps kids and their parents deal with allergies and provides education on how to cope. Check them out here.
Looking for another good resource? Check out Mary Voogt at Just Take a Bite for fabulous tips and recipes for food sensitive kids. Her ebook Why Won’t My Child Eat is a very helpful resource to get started! Check it out here.
Thanks for tuning in to the Childhood and Adolescent Nutritional Series. If you have any questions, please be sure to contact me, I am happy to help!
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