Food Allergies and Children

Food allergies in children are on the rise, with 60% of allergies appearing in the child’s first year. An allergy is the body's response to a particular food or substance that can be life threatening. Many people confuse allergies for intolerances, with the latter being a chemical reaction that is more common.

Telling the difference between food allergies and intolerances

The symptoms can look alike, but generally an allergic response will happen within a matter of hours of eating, touching or being around the food. A food intolerance can depend on how much of the trigger food is eaten, and symptoms may take 12–24 hours to appear.

Triggers for allergic responses

While other foods can cause an allergic response, the most common triggers are

  • milk
  • eggs
  • peanuts
  • tree nuts
  • sesame
  • fish
  • shellfish
  • wheat
  • soy.

For some children even being in the same room as an allergen, or kissing someone who has eaten it, can lead to a serious response. This is just as important for parents to know as any other friends or family who come into contact with the child.

Symptoms to look out for

Common symptoms or warning signs include:

  • Nose and/or eyes: rhinitis, conjunctivitis, sneezing, itching
  • Mouth: itching, tingling, burning, swelling of tongue or throat
  • Lungs: breathing problems, asthma, wheezing
  • Skin: eczema, hives, dermatitis
  • Digestion: vomiting, diarrhoea, cramps
  • Nervous system: headache, irritability, fatigue, convulsions

What to do if a child is in anaphylactic shock

Anaphylactic shock can be life threatening and requires immediate medical attention. An injection of adrenaline is required and may be administered by parents or a carer, or even the child themselves if they are able and taught how to. Life-threatening symptoms can appear within moments of exposure to an allergen.

You can't rely on self-diagnosis, particularly concerning food allergies in children. If you are concerned about food allergies affecting your child, contact your doctor for a proper diagnosis and advice on how to proceed in your situation.

Read our basic tips about peanut allergies.

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