Your child has gastrointestinal problems, experiences itchy mouth or lips, or seems to be scratching a lot after a meal. There’s a good chance he or she has a food allergy, right?
Not so fast. While food allergies are a common worry for many parents, only up to 8 percent of children actually suffer from one, according to a report published by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2017.
Adverse reactions to foods can be common in children and include intolerance (for example, lactose intolerance), food poisoning, and celiac disease/gluten sensitivity. Only a physician can correctly diagnose an allergy or another reaction.
People with a true food allergy cannot tolerate any amount of certain foods because their immune system mistakes a food ingredient for something harmful and mounts a defense against it. If it’s an adverse reaction, your child can likely consume a limited amount without triggering any severe symptoms.
Common Food Allergy Culprits
The vast majority of food allergies are caused by one of the following foods: milk, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts (walnuts, pecans, cashews, almonds), fish, and shellfish. The good news: Most children will outgrow allergies to milk, eggs, wheat, and soy by the time they’re teenagers. But only about 20 percent of children with a peanut allergy outgrow it, and even fewer outgrow allergies to tree nuts, fish, or shellfish.
When to Visit the Doctor
Watch for three keys to determine if it’s time to ask your doctor about food allergy testing:
Quick: An allergic reaction to a particular food will likely occur soon after your child is exposed to it, usually within 30 to 60 minutes, but generally no longer than two hours after.
Strong: Symptoms of an allergy—hives, swelling, respiratory issues, gastrointestinal troubles, anaphylactic shock (which can lead to death), or a combination of those—will be obvious. If the signs are minor in intensity, it’s more likely to be an adverse reaction.
Happens every time: Your child experiences a reaction whenever that food is consumed.
To determine whether it’s a food allergy, start keeping a food diary, a detailed record of what your child eats, to help figure out what could be causing the reaction. You can also try an elimination diet. Remove one food at a time from your child’s diet to see if the symptoms improve. If your child has a severe reaction, a physician should supervise an elimination diet.
If you still suspect an allergy after these steps, call your child’s doctor.
To learn more about diagnosing and treating food allergies or hear a podcast on managing allergies, click here.