Knowledge of food allergies is becoming commonplace. Most people are aware they exist and how to handle them, but what about recognizing when they are new? It is estimated that 1 in 20 children has a food allergy which means it is quite possible, or even likely that your child could be one of them. This 4-part guide helps you to understand how to recognize kids with food allergies.
Kids With Food Allergies Part 1: Allergy vs. Intolerance
Not every adverse reaction to food is caused by an allergy, it could also be a food intolerance. The main difference is what causes the reaction – an allergy is when your immune system reacts to a food as though it is toxic and attempts to fight it off; an intolerance is when your body reacts to a substance in the food not the food itself.
The most common food allergies are: cow’s milk, hen’s eggs, soybeans, peanuts, tree nuts (almond, brazil, cashews etc.), sesame, wheat, fish and shellfish.
The most common food intolerances are: dairy, wheat and food additives (e.g. flavour enhancers like MSG).
The good news is it is possible for kids with food allergies to become immune (like milk, eggs, soybean and wheat) and many young children do so by the time they reach adolescence. But some allergies are lifelong, in particular peanuts, tree nuts, fish/shellfish and gluten (aka coeliac disease).
Part 2: Symptoms To Be Aware Of
The symptoms of a food intolerance tend to be less severe and it may take a while before they present themselves. Your child may also be able to handle small amounts of foods they are intolerant too without a reaction. Diarrhea, bloating and headaches are all common symptoms of food intolerances.
Allergy symptoms tend to occur much quicker. An immediate reaction could be within minutes or up to 1-2 hours after eating. A delayed reaction could be 2-4 hours or even days after consuming a food they are allergic too.
Mild allergy symptoms may include:
● Abdominal pain or vomiting
● Tingling sensation in the mouth
● Swelling of the face, eyes or lips
Severe allergic reactions may include:
● Difficulty breathing
● Swollen tongue
● Wheezing or a persistent cough
● Dizziness and fainting
● Low blood pressure
● Swelling or tightness in the throat
● Young children may go pale or floppy
If your child experiences any of these symptoms call 000 immediately and seek emergency help. Deaths from allergic reactions are rare but a delayed response puts your child at risk.
Part 3: Introducing Risky Food To Your Child’s Diet
It may feel like the best way to protect your child is to avoid common allergen foods. But you won’t always be in control of what your child eats and not knowing puts them more at risk than managing a diagnosed allergy. Health professionals recommend introducing a variety of solid foods when your child reaches 6 months, along with breastfeeding. As you begin introducing solid foods make sure to introduce common allergens one at a time so you can easily assess if your child has a reaction to them. Even if you believe your child is at risk of an allergy it is highly recommended you introduce foods that may cause a reaction in their first year of life.
If your child does react to some foods it is vital that they have a proper allergy test to indicate whether it is in fact an allergy or an intolerance as the treatment will vary widely based on the results.
Part 4: Managing A Food Allergy
Once you know that your child has a food allergy there are steps you can take to avoid dangerous situations.
1. Have a separate shelf or container in the pantry/fridge for food that your child can eat for when they wish to get themselves a snack. You could help them remember where it is with handy children’s furniture (like a step stool) they use to reach their designated food area.
2. If they are too young to self-manage make sure any risk foods are kept out of reach or locked away.
3. Ensure any friends, family and babysitters are aware of your child’s food needs.
4. Make sure they also know how to treat an allergic reaction and that medical supplies are accessible at all times. Many modern prams and strollers include storage baskets which is a great place to keep things like an extra Epipen so you’re always prepared, even on the run.
5. Visit the doctor for a yearly review so you have up to date prescriptions, training in administering adrenaline and to assess whether your child has grown out of their allergy.
Now that you’ve completed the guide you should have a greater knowledge of kids with food allergies from how to recognize their symptoms to steps for managing a diagnosed allergy.