Kids and Food Allergies

Your daughter gets a stomachache when she drinks milk. Your son gets a rash when he tries peanut butter for the first time. Are they both allergic reactions to food? Know the symptoms of food allergies so you can be prepared to deal with them.

Food allergies have increased over the past 3 decades and now affect about two percent of the U.S. population with life-threatening allergies to peanuts or tree nuts. Kids usually outgrow allergies to soy or milk products (about one half in 2-3 years), but about 80 percent of children with peanut, nut, or seafood allergy will retain their allergy for life. They need to be careful what they eat and keep medication (epinephrine) with them in case of severe reactions.

Most kids don't know how to deal with allergic reactions. New guidelines released in March, 2006, help doctors teach kids to deal with food allergies.

What is a food allergy?

A food allergy occurs when a harmless protein from a nut or other food binds to antibodies and releases a chemical called histamine, which causes allergic symptoms.

What is anaphylaxis?

Some food allergies can lead to a life-threatening or fatal reaction called anaphylaxis. The body releases a tremendous amount of histamine, causing the throat to tighten. Blood pressure drops and the person can lose consciousness and go into cardiac arrest.

What are the symptoms of a food allergy?

There are several symptoms of food allergies:

  • Tingling, itchy or puffy lips or tongue
  • Itchy or scratchy throat
  • Hoarseness
  • Excessive salivation
  • Skin reaction - such as hives, rash or itchiness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Wheezing
  • Tightening of the throat and difficulty breathing

Get emergency care if your child has trouble breathing or speaking, or begins coughing, develops a swollen tongue, becomes confused or loses consciousness while eating.

Risks for food allergy

A child who has eczema, asthma, hay fever, a family history of food allergies or a latex allergy may be at risk for food allergies.

Introducing foods

One theory is that food allergies take place when children are given solids too soon, especially infants with family histories of food allergies. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends starting solids at 6 months of age. Some doctors allow parents to start babies on solids as early as 4 months of age. Check with your doctor before starting your child on solids. When you get the go-ahead, introduce one food at a time in small quantities.

When should I introduce peanuts and nuts?

If any family members have peanut or nut allergies, talk to your child's doctor before introducing these foods. Some parents have their kids tested for allergies before introducing peanuts or nuts, especially if an older sibling is allergic or if the child has eczema or other risks for food allergies. The longer you wait, the less likely your child will be to develop the allergy.

What about legumes?

Peanuts aren't really nuts. They are legumes, in the same family as peas and lentils. Some children are allergic to certain legumes. If you're concerned, it's best to wait before introducing them.

Keep a food diary

Food intolerance can be confused with a true food allergy. When introducing new foods, record any reactions in a diary for two or three days. Look for reactions a few hours after trying a new food, because it may take time for symptoms to appear.

Tips for keeping a food diary:

  • Note the amount of food eaten and the time of day of the reaction.
  • Describe all reactions, including what you think are "false alarms."
  • Describe any rash, including the color and location.



© UnitedHealthcare