Many parents have questions about the most common food allergies in childhood. For new parents, this can feel especially daunting. Many of us have heard the horror stories about a bad reaction to something a friend’s child ate that ended with a visit to urgent care or the emergency room.
To start with, you need to first know how food allergies even develop. Food allergies develop when a person’s immune system views something they ate as a threat and mounts an attack against it. The allergic reactions, such as developing hives or a rash, are the outward signs of your body’s defense system responding to this perceived threat.
Food allergies can develop in almost any child, and they affect around 6 to 8 percent of all young children. There is no cure for food allergies. Though, allergies can be effectively managed and some children simply grow out of them. For parents looking for signs of allergies, keep in mind that many children experience food intolerance to certain foods at a young age.
While food intolerance can cause problems with digestion, it doesn’t cause an immune response and isn’t a food allergy. Food intolerance means your child might have difficulty digesting a particular food. Food allergies, on the other hand, can present life threatening issues.
To help get a start on understanding some about food allergies, we want to talk through some of the basics. In this article, we cover a little about the most common food allergies in childhood. Let’s look at each type of food allergy in more detail to see where some of the biggest issues come up with food allergies in childhood.
We eat eggs all the time, many times without thinking about it. Whether we eat just eggs for breakfast, or have eggs cooked in as an ingredient into other foods, we eat eggs at almost every meal of the day. Due to the versatility and how cheap eggs are, it makes sense we eat eggs so much.
For your child, though, eggs could present a significant problem. Eggs just happen to also be one of the most common food allergies in childhood. Many people with a food allergy to eggs have a reaction to the protein in eggs. For young children first eating eggs, their young immune system attacks the egg protein as if it were a harmful foreign invader causing an allergic reaction.
When looking for an egg allergy, you should keep an eye out for skin reactions such as hives or possible issues with the digestive or respiratory system. Egg allergies rarely become serious enough to require immediate response. Still if you notice a continual negative response such as hives when eating eggs, you should consult with your doctor about a possible allergy.
Babies and infants drink milk. First with breast milk and then dairy milk, milk typically makes up a significant portion of a young child’s diet. Unfortunately, sometimes, about 2 to 3% of babies have an allergic reaction to cow’s milk. For newborns that have been breastfed, they have a higher chance of developing an allergy to cow’s milk. For this and other reasons, cow’s milk also appears as one of the most common food allergies in childhood.
A milk allergy in a child can sometimes be confused with lactose intolerance. While they at first might appear similar, lactose intolerance typically only causes discomfort while a milk allergy can be much more serious and even life-threatening.
While symptoms to milk allergy can vary from skin irritation to difficulty breathing, with any sign of discomfort after consuming milk you should see a doctor. Your doctor can then help diagnose whether the issue is a milk allergic or an intolerance. Your doctor can then help you develop an effective management plan for either problem.
In addition to milk and eggs, peanuts also happen to be one of the most common food allergies in childhood. Of all early childhood allergies, most parents and adults recognize this allergy more than most. Allergic reactions to peanuts can vary in those affected, but reactions can be severe. Many children can have a serious intense reaction called anaphylaxis, which can be life threatening if not treated immediately.
Since reactions to peanuts can possibly be life threatening, if you suspect an allergy to peanuts in your child, you need to consult with a doctor and allergist as soon as possible. Until you can put in place an effective management plan, you need to vigilantly monitor your child’s diet for peanuts. After seeing an allergist, keep tabs on any peanut intake and work with schools and daycares to make sure your child doesn’t come into contact with peanuts as much as you can. Keep close watch on the possibility of contact with peanuts to best help manage this allergy.
Along with peanuts, soy also appears as one of the most common food allergies in childhood. Also along with peanuts, soy belongs to a family of plants called legumes. It’s important to know that many children can express allergies to many types of legumes, such as peanuts and soy, at the same time. Still, though, other children might just show allergic reactions to one legume. With this in mind, you need to make sure you have your child checked if they show signs of having allergies to peanuts or any other legumes.
While less common than with peanut allergies, in rare cases some children can react severely to soy and have anaphylaxis. Fortunately, many children can outgrow an allergy to soy. Still, if you suspect an allergy to soy, you need to put in place an effective plan to avoid all food that may contain soy. Continue to act as if your child might always have an allergy to soy. Hopefully in the end, they do grow out of it, but if they don’t you can still maintain a management plan that keeps their diet in check.
Wheat allergies, especially allergies to gluten in wheat, have become much more common in recent years. As a result, wheat also occurs as one of the most common food allergies in childhood. Fortunately, reactions to wheat for most children tend to be mild and pass quickly. Reactions can include anything from a skin rash to runny nose to nausea to indigestion among other things.
Any food containing wheat, including pasta and cereals, can cause a reaction if your child has an allergy. Additionally, your child can react to non-food products that contain wheat such as Play-Doh. As a result, you should pay attention to ingredients in all types of products.
Fortunately, similarly to soy, many children quickly outgrow an allergic reaction to wheat. Nearly two thirds of children who initially show a reaction will eventually stop having allergies to it. This makes management oftentimes only needed for a relatively short period.
Tree nuts also make the list of the most common food allergies in childhood. In fact, tree nuts appear as the second most common allergy in kids. While most of us think of peanuts when we hear “nut” allergies, tree nuts are a separate group entirely.
Tree nuts include most well-known nuts such as almonds, walnuts, and cashews. While tree nuts and peanuts come from different food families, there can still be cross-reactivity between the two. This means that if you may be allergic to one, your body might respond in a similar way to the other. For this reason, many doctors will recommend avoiding peanuts if you have a tree nut allergy.
While in a small percent of cases, children might grow out of a tree nut allergy, most people will have the allergy all their life. This means that you need to stay extra vigilant and always keep your guard up. Fortunately, the FDA requires most manufacturers to list tree nuts on their label if the product contains any in its ingredients.
Fish and Shellfish
Finally, both fish and shellfish appear as two of the most common food allergies in childhood. While similar, they actually are two distinct categories of food allergies. While they both might fall under seafood, since they have a different physical makeup, a person could be allergic to one without being allergic to the other.
For many people, shellfish allergy can be a very serious condition and can be quite severe. Many people with shellfish allergy should keep injectable adrenaline on hand in case of emergency. People with shellfish allergy can have a severe reaction from eating shellfish or possibly even touching it or inhaling vapors from it being cooked. If your child gets diagnosed with shellfish allergy, you need to strictly monitor their diet and keep them from any interaction with shellfish.
Similarly, people with a fish allergy can also react severely to eating, touching, or simply inhaling vapors from fish. They might not react at all when it comes to shellfish, but fish might cause symptoms ranging from vomiting to trouble breathing to anaphylaxis. Most people with a fish allergy actually are not allergic to all fish but typically to just a few varieties. Unless you can identify and be certain of those varieties, though, you should try to keep your child away from all contact with any fish if they have reactions to them.
Addressing the Most Common Food Allergies in Childhood
Food allergies can make life difficult for both children and parents. If your child suffers from a severe reaction to a particular food, you more than likely worry every time you go to a restaurant or send your child off to school. Will they somehow accidentally encounter that food? Will they have a severe reaction and not have access to immediate care?
These thoughts might nag at us as parents. While you can never 100% protect your child from every situation, you nevertheless can prepare to deal with food allergies with careful planning and education. The first step involves simply knowing the most common food allergies in childhood to look out for. The next step involves getting your pediatrician involved if you see signs of an allergic reaction. After identifying a particular allergy, you then work out a management plan with your doctor and put it into action.
Over time, allergy management can become a regular part of your routine. Sometimes allergies might diminish and disappear with time. Even if they don’t, though, you can still learn to manage them well with effort, time, and preparation.