Food Allergies in Children

This week is Food Allergy Awareness week (May 13-19). For many of us adults, it is surprising how many children these days have food allergies. We peanut butter allergyremember bringing birthday treats to school, and all eating at the same table in the school lunchroom. Today, many schools have banned edible birthday treats altogether, and have designated “allergen free” tables at lunchtime. The grade school my mom teaches at has signs posted on the classroom doors that read “Nut-Free Classroom.”

The answer to the question “why have food allergies become more prevalent?” is still being investigated. A food allergy involves an IgE-mediated immune response in which the immune system reacts to protein fractions in foods, producing a variety of symptoms for different people. A food intolerance does not actually involve the IgE immune response, but still produces symptoms. In either case, strictly avoiding the particular food is the best treatment.

There are eight common food allergens, which the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network estimates account for 90% of all food-allergic reactions:

8 Common Food Allergies:

  1. Wheat
  2. Soy
  3. Dairy
  4. Eggs
  5. Peanuts
  6. Treenuts
  7. Fish
  8. Shellfish

Diagnosing Food Allergies:

Diagnosing food allergies can be somewhat tricky, as blood tests that look for elevated IgE markers in response to certain foods can produce false positives and false negatives. Symptoms present differently depending on the individual, and can be severe as in the case of anaphylaxis. Other signs and symptoms are less obvious, and may be overlooked as a possible food allergy. Some I have seen in the clinical pediatric setting include:

Signs of a Food Allergy:

  • Rhinitis (aka “runny nose”) or general congestion
  • Chronic ear aches (resulting from congestion)
  • “Allergic shiners” which are dark and/or swollen circles under the eyes
  • Asthma
  • Eczema
  • Diarrhea
  • Blood or mucus in the stool
  • Vomiting or reflux
  • Suboptimal growth or a slowing of growth

A definitive way to determine food allergies or intolerances is through an elimination diet. A registered dietitian can educate parents and children on how to do an elimination diet successfully, which can provide clear answers and a path to better health. The elimination diet is also useful for breastfeeding mothers whose infants are showing signs of possible food allergy or intolerance.  A registered dietitian can also provide education and alternatives for infants who are formula fed and not tolerating standard infant formulas.

Once a food allergy or intolerance has been identified, a registered dietitian can also provide education and guidance for families on how to eliminate the food (and all forms of it), as well as alternatives that can be consumed.  At North Shore Pediatric Therapy,  an experienced pediatric registered dietitian can help your child feel the best he or she can, food-allergy free.

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