Have some questions about food allergies in children? We sure do. So we got some exclusive advice from professional dietitian, nutritionist and Bococaland pal, Ann Margaret Kane. Here she talks about how patterns can differ in kids from adults, why it’s become so prevalent and what you can do to make sure you don’t miss anything in your own child.
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You may have noticed that food allergy patterns in adults differ somewhat from those in kids. In fact, the most common foods to trigger allergies in adults are shrimp, lobster, crab and other shellfish; peanuts; walnuts and other tree nuts (pecans, etc); fish; and eggs. In children, eggs, milk, peanuts, soy and wheat are the major culprits. Peanuts in both populations are one of the main foods responsible for severe allergies–or anaphylaxis. Thankfully, kids tend to outgrow their allergies to milk, egg, soy and wheat, though aversions to peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shrimp usually tend to linger.
Why It Happens
“The prevalence of food allergies is increasing and probably will continue to grow along with all allergic diseases,” says Robert A. Wood, M.D., director of the pediatric allergy clinic at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore. Wood says the last three decades of research show the number of people with allergies skyrocketing in developed and developing countries, but, ironically, not in underdeveloped areas. At least three million children in the United States now have food allergies. “In these super-clean environments, the immune system essentially lacks a normal workload. However, it does what it is built to do, and finds something to attack, often directing its attention toward such harmless things as pollen grains, even healthy food,” he says. Normally your immune system protects you from germs and bacteria by building antibodies to fight off infection and disease. Food Allergies occur when your immune system mistakenly treats something in a certain food as if it’s dangerous. So, the food itself isn’t harmful but the way the body reacts to it is.
As a registered dietitian who consults for the western region NJ school systems, I have seen an increase in both the amount and types of food allergies. Aversions to fruits and vegetables such as apples, mangos, strawberries, and tomatoes are increasing–coupled with intolerance to gluten, a storage found in wheat, rye, and barley products.
Finding and Treating Allergies
Now that you’re aware of why allergies happen, how can you tell if your child has any? Reactions could be mild reaction or more severe. An allergic reaction could happen right away or a few hours after the child ingests the food that he is allergic to–which isn’t very reassuring. Some of the first signs could be just a runny nose, an itchy skin rash like hives, or a tingling in the tongue or lips. Other signs effect both the respiratory and gastro intestinal system to include tightness in the throat, hoarse voice, wheezing, cough and/or nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, and diarrhea. In the most serious cases, a food allergy can cause anaphylaxis (mentioned above)–which is a sudden, severe reaction in which several problems occur at once and can involve many bodily dysfunctions. Obviously, if this is the case for your child, you’ll need a plan for handling emergencies.
Once you’ve realized your child has allergies, the next step is to figure out what they’re allergic to. I strongly suggest keeping a diary for a few weeks and recording the foods your child eats, especially new foods. Also include when they develop symptoms. You’ll want to allow time for recording, as it could take months and even years for your child’s immune system to build up a reaction against something that he or she is allergic to. Unfortunately, there is no special medication for food allergies. The best treatment is to avoid the food itself and any foods or drinks that contain the food. In fact its best early on to eliminate products like cow’s milk and other dairy products until your child is one; eggs until two and peanut butter and shellfish until three.
Just because your child has food allergies doesn’t mean that they can’t live a normal life–including dining out and enjoying special occasions. To illustrate how multiple food allergies can affect a family, I’ve sited my own brother William Kane, his wife Lori and their son Owen–who has multiple allergies to food.
At one, after solely breastfeeding , Owen was given a bottle with a combination of regular whole and breast milk. Lori soon noted allergic reactions, but tried again the next day with cheese. Unfortunately, she got the same puffy and swollen cheeks and eyes, as well as itchy skin. Since Lori has allergies, she figured that was the culprit. After going to the doctor, Owen was diagnosed as allergic to dairy and nuts. Happy to have found out early and quickly, the Kane’s take their son to the doctor for yearly skin, blood and allergy tests. This summer, an annual visit showed additional allergies to soy, eggs, and wheat.
But how has this changed their lives? Obviously, it’s most difficult when not in their own home. The Kane’s always pack a bag of “safe” foods for restaurants and now at five years old, Owen has learned to ask if something has dairy before he eats it. But the most difficult environment is birthday parties, where Owen watches other kids enjoying pizza and cake. Thankfully, dairy-free cakes and cupcakes are available and they bring these with them, helping to make the event special.