Food Allergies Can Often Be Mild to Life-Threatening.
As many parents have come to find out, children are often very picky eaters. They like to pick and choose between foods even if they are healthy for them. However, there are some children that are forced to be picky with the foods they eat. Food allergies in children are common with about 1 in 13 children having an allergy to at least one food, according to Food Allergy Research and Education. Even worse, about 40% of children experience severe, life-threatening reactions.
It can be very difficult for a parent to recognize whether their child truly has a food allergy. Most parents have no clue until their child tries a food for the first time, and they have a reaction. This is why it is incredibly important for anyone in the care of a child, including parents, teachers, and babysitters, to understand what food allergies are to better care for the child.
What are Food Allergies?
A food allergy is a medical condition in which a harmful immune response is triggered once an individual is exposed to a certain food. The proteins in the food that are normally harmless are attacked by the immune system. These proteins are known as allergens. A child must have been exposed to the food once prior to a reaction occurring. The second instance is when a reaction will occur. Histamines are released which cause symptoms to become readily apparent.
It is also important to understand the difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance.
- Food Allergy: Allergens cause the immune system to respond with an allergic reaction, causing symptoms of discomfort to life-threatening.
- Food Intolerance: Food intolerance does not affect the immune system as an allergy does. However, they do share some of the same symptoms.
Causes of Food Allergies
The main cause of a food allergy is when a child consumes food, and their body overreacts, producing antibodies to fight the food as if it were a dangerous virus. A plethora of foods can cause allergic reactions, but in about 90% of cases, these are some of the most common foods:
- Tree Nuts
Eggs, milk, and peanuts are the most common food allergies for children, while peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish are the most dangerous and life-threatening. Typically, most children outgrow their food allergies over time, but allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish may persist throughout their life.
Symptoms of Food Allergies
A child’s breathing, intestinal tract, heart, and skin are all at risk of being affected by food allergies. Symptoms for food allergies occur within minutes to an hour after eating the food. These symptoms consist of:
- Trouble Breathing/Shortness of Breath
- Stomach Pain
- Itching or Swelling of the Lips, Tongue, or Mouth
- Itching or Tightness in the Throat
- Low Blood Pressure
Many people often confuse food allergies with food intolerance due to both sharing similar symptoms. However, food intolerance does not affect a child’s immune system, can happen if they can’t digest a substance such as lactose, and while it may be unpleasant, is not dangerous.
In rare cases, a child may experience a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening condition and should be treated as an emergency immediately. They may experience:
- Chest Pain
- Trouble Swallowing
- Turning Blue
- Weak Pulse
- Swelling of the Lips, Tongue, and Throat
What to do During a Reaction
Every child is different, so it is only natural for every child to react differently during an allergic reaction. Some reactions can be very mild, while others can be life-threatening. For some, reactions occur almost instantly, while for others, it takes up to an hour to occur.
There is no way to prevent food allergies. The goal for many is to prolong the reactions or to treat them at the moment. After seeing your doctor and figuring out the foods your child is allergic to, you must try to avoid these foods at all cost. In more severe cases, your doctor may prescribe you with an emergency kit containing epinephrine, which helps stop severe reactions.
In cases when emergencies kits aren’t available and symptoms persist, immediately take your child to an emergency room for treatment.
Having a child with a food allergy can make it stressful for a parent to try to feed them foods that won’t harm them. It is important to have a child exam to figure out whether they have any allergies or not. It is always important to be aware of the symptoms of an allergic reaction as well as what you can do in these situations. The providers at Tots N Teens Pediatrics are here to help all parents learn about and understand their child’s food allergies.