Food Allergy Symptoms & Causes

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How is a food allergy different from food intolerance?

Food allergy affects your child’s immune system; food intolerance doesn’t. When your child ingests or is exposed to a food he or she is allergic to, antibodies react with the food and histamines are released, which can cause your child to experience the symptoms of food allergy.

What are the symptoms? When do they occur?

Allergic symptoms may begin anywhere between a few minutes to an hour after your child ingests the food to which he or she is allergic. Each child may experience symptoms differently, but the most common include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Cramps
  • Hives
  • Swelling
  • Eczema
  • Itching or swelling of the lips, tongue, or mouth
  • Itching or tightness in the throat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Lowered blood pressure

According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infections disease, even a small amount of the food can cause a severe reaction in a highly allergic child; even a tiny particle of a peanut can cause a reaction in some severely allergic individuals.

Are the symptoms different for a milk or soy allergy?

Yes. Allergies to milk and soy are often seen in infants and young children, and the symptoms may include:

  • Colic
  • Blood in your child’s stool
  • Poor growth

Your child’s physician may change your baby’s formula to a soy formula or breast milk if it is thought that he or she is allergic to milk; if your baby has problems with soy formula, your child’s physician may suggest a hypoallergenic formula.

Will my child outgrow a food allergy?

Many children do “outgrow” their allergies, but allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish may be life-long.

Can food allergies be prevented?

The development of food allergies can not be prevented, but they can often be delayed by following these recommendations:

  • If possible, breastfeed your infant for the first six months
  • Do not give your child solid foods until he or she is six months of age or older
  • Avoid feeding your child cow’s milk, wheat, eggs, peanuts, and fish during the first year of your child’s life.

Can a child with food allergies dine out in a restaurant?

Dining out can be a challenge for a child with one or more food allergies. However, it is possible. The American Dietetics Association suggests:

  • Know what ingredients are in the foods at the restaurant where you plan to eat. If possible, obtain a menu in advance.

  • Let your server know right away about your child’s food allergy. Ask about preparation and ingredients before you order, and if your server seems unsure, ask to speak to the manager or chef.

  • Avoid buffets, as there may be cross-contamination from shared serving utensils.

  • Avoid fried foods, as the same oil may be used to fry several different foods (for example, French fries and popcorn shrimp).

  • A “Food Allergy Card,” detailing the specific items your child is allergic to as well as additional information to make your child’s meal “safe,” can be downloaded from the internet and presented to your server.

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