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Understanding & Recognizing Food Allergies

Children develop food allergies when their immune system reacts negatively to certain food substances, releasing antibodies to fight off the food substance which is wrongly targeted as a harmful intruder. Children under 3 years old tend to be susceptible to developing food allergies, particularly if they have a family history of allergies or if they are exposed to allergenic foods early on in infancy. Children suffering from food allergies tend to be sensitive to one type of food, however it’s not impossible for certain individuals to be allergic to several types of foods simultaneously. By learning to recognize the signs of food allergies, you’ll be able to provide your child with the proper care it needs to insure its wellbeing.

Allergic reactions range from mild to life threatening, taking anywhere from 30 minutes to a few days after eating the offending food to manifest. Normally most food allergies tend to be mild, but when severe they can be triggered by the most minimal contact with an offending food and will manifest within a very short period of time. The most dangerous food allergies can cause anaphylaxis, which is a severe allergic reaction that is characterized by:

• Dizziness or fainting 
• Vomiting 
• Diarrhea 
• Skin reactions such as hives, itching, or flushed/pale skin
• Itching or tingling
• Swollen lips, tongue or throat, which can constrict the airway and cause wheezing or suffocatio

Gastrointestinal symptoms resulting from allergic reactions include:

• Loose stool or diarrhea (sometimes containing blood or mucus, which usually results from an allergic reaction to cow’s milk. If this occurs, anemia might develop)
• Gas
• Nausea or vomiting
• Constipation

Other symptoms can include:

• Hives 
• Ear infections
• Stuffy or runny nose 
• Watery or red eyes 
• Asthma attacks 
• Eczema
• Fussiness

Foods that Cause Allergies
Foods known to trigger life threatening allergic reactions are:

• Shellfish (such as crab, lobster and shrimp)
• Peanuts 
• Fish (such as cod, tuna and salmon) 
• Tree nuts (such as Brazil nuts, walnuts and cashews)

Common foods that cause allergies include:

• Milk
• Eggs
• Wheat
• Soy

Treatment & Prevention
There is no medication that can cure or completely prevent food allergies. In most cases children will outgrow their food allergies by the time they’re old enough to go to school, particularly those related to wheat and soy. Cow milk allergies should clear up once a child is 3 years old, and some allergies that persist until the 3
rd year can clear up if no contact is made with the offending foods for at least a year or two. Nuts, peanuts, fish and shellfish allergies, however, tend to be lifelong, though some children do outgrow peanut related food allergies.

Treating and preventing food allergies is a simple matter of removing the offending food from a child’s diet for an extended period of time or indefinitely. If allergy symptoms arise, eliminating the offending food from the child’s diet for 3 days should alleviate the symptoms. Breastfeeding has been linked to reducing a child’s risk to a majority of food allergies, particularly if the breastfeeding mother avoids including allergenic foods in her own diet. It’s also recommended to postpone the introduction of solid foods until the baby is older to prevent certain allergies from developing.

As a parent, the first thing you need to do when you discover that your child has a food allergy is to learn as much as possible about your baby’s condition and discuss the best course of action with your pediatrician.

Food Intolerances
Sometimes children might have an adverse reaction to certain foods not as a result of a food allergy, but due to their body’s inability to digest the foods properly, resulting in what is known as a food intolerance. Examples of this would be lactose intolerance; a child with lactose intolerance lacks the necessary enzyme to process the sugar in dairy products, resulting in bloating and sometimes diarrhea.

When to Call the Doctor
If your baby has trouble breathing, experiences swelling of the lips, begins to vomit violently, or suffers from diarrhea soon after eating something new, call for paramedic medical help immediately. Severe allergic reactions can be life threatening if not dealt with quickly and expertly, as a baby’s airway can close up within minutes in the case of an anaphylactic shock. If allergy symptoms arise gradually over the course of two hours, call your doctor. If food allergy symptoms seem mild, schedule an appointment and have your baby checked to determine which foods are causing your baby distress and to learn how to proceed.