What you need to know about food allergies

by Dr. Lyndsey Garbi | June 11, 2018
Allergies Food Allergies

Let’s start with the basics – what is a food allergy?

A food allergy is when a child’s body reacts to something that is usually not harmful. An allergic reaction can be triggered by eating or smelling a food the body is allergic to. A food allergy will usually happen quickly – think 1-5 minutes – after encountering the trigger. Let’s explore some common allergic triggers, and how to spot the symptoms of an allergic reaction.

What are the most common food allergies?

  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Wheat
  • Soy
  • Almonds or cashews, sometimes referred to collectively as “tree nuts”
  • Milk and foods that contain milk, like ice cream
  • Fish
  • Shrimp and other shellfish

What are the symptoms of a food allergy?

Children sometimes just feel sick after eating too much or because of food poisoning. As a pediatrician we do not consider this an allergic reaction. Let’s explore the symptoms of a true food allergy.

Mild symptoms:

  • Hives – itchy red bumps on the skin
  • Redness
  • Itchy or watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing

Severe symptoms:

  •  Throat swelling
  • Excessive coughing
  • Noisy breathing
  • Trouble catching breath
  • Throwing up or having diarrhea that may be bloody

If your child has any of the severe symptoms above, you should call 9-1-1 and go to the emergency room.

How do I know if my child has a food allergy?

If you think your child might have an allergy, you should speak to your pediatrician about having your child tested.

There are two allergy testing options most frequently used: a Skin Prick Test, which simulates an allergic exposure and watches for a reaction, and Blood Test, which tests the amount of a protein in your child’s blood that is responsible for the symptoms of allergic reactions. After these tests are performed, your pediatrician will help you understand which allergic triggers to avoid.

How are food allergies treated?

It will always depend on how severe the reaction is. If it’s a mild reaction, just observation may be needed or a dose of Benadryl and oral steroids. During an acute allergic reaction with any of the severe signs listed above, a doctor will likely give an injection of a medicine called “epinephrine” in the hospital. This is the best treatment for an allergic reaction. If your child has a known food allergy, your pediatrician might prescribe an autoinjector of epinephrine, commonly called an Epipen.

Epipens always require a prescription. 

It can be scary to need to give this injection to your child, but your pediatrician will teach you how and when to do it if your child needs a prescription. You can practice with your pediatrician until you feel comfortable, and you should arrange to educate your child’s teachers and caretakers as well.

But peanuts are everywhere! How can I stop my child from coming in contact with these foods?

Parents of food allergic children often live with daily anxiety of whether their child will eat something that can harm them. Here are some tips for preventing allergic reactions:

  • Let restaurants and school staff know your child has food allergies.
  • Know the signs of a severe allergic reaction.
  • Have an epinephrine autoinjector with you at all times, and send one to school with your child.
  • Order a medical bracelet for your child to wear so others will be aware of the allergy.
  • Read food labels carefully

It can be challenging to take care of a child with food allergies- it’s important to learn to identify triggers and spot the signs of a severe allergic reaction.