It’s a big job managing potentially dangerous food allergies in children. Know the causes, symptoms and treatments to help your child.
More children than expected seem to have some form of food allergy. A recent study surveying 38,000 children showed that eight percent of them aged 18 and under were allergic to at least one food, according to a report by Web MD. While some childhood food allergies may be mild and fade over time, parents need to recognize that food allergies are potentially dangerous and deadly.
Causes of food allergies
A sensitive child must have been exposed to the food at least once before or could also be sensitised through breast feeding. It is the second time the child eats the food that the allergic symptoms occur. At that time histamines are released in the child’s body causing them to experience hives, asthma, itching in the mouth, trouble breathing, stomach pains, vomiting and/or diarrhoea. Food allergy causes the child to have an immune system response, with symptoms ranging from uncomfortable to life-threatening. Food intolerance may cause some similar reactions, but does not affect the immune system.
90 percent of all food allergies in children are triggered by these foods: milk, eggs, wheat, soy, tree nuts, fish and shellfish and peanuts. Among these, eggs, milk and peanuts are the most common and peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish cause the most severe reactions. Allergies to peanuts, tree nuts and shellfish are most likely to last a lifetime — the child may outgrow other allergies.
Allergic reactions in children with food allergies may begin within minutes of eating the food or take up to an hour to show. Each child will react differently, but the most common symptoms are vomiting, cramps, diarrhoea, hives, swelling, eczema, itching and swelling of the lips, tongue or mouth, itching and tightness in the throat, difficulty breathing, wheezing and lowered blood pressure.
There is no medication to prevent food allergies. The goal of treatment is to identify the foods that trigger the allergic reaction and avoid them and all other similar foods in that food group. If you are breastfeeding an allergic child, you must avoid those foods that trigger a reaction in your infant.
For children who have had a severe reaction to a food allergy, your doctor may prescribe an emergency kit which contains epinephrine, which helps stop the symptoms of the most severe reactions.
Managing food allergies in children day-to-day is a huge undertaking. There’s no room for error and the child may feel isolated and scared. As a parent you need to be a reassuring role model and teach the child how to manage the allergy with a positive attitude.