Food allergies are a growing food safety and public health concern that affect an estimated 4 percent to 6 percent of children in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There is no known cure for food allergies and some reactions can be life threatening.
Parents and caregivers should keep these key points in mind when it comes to food allergies:
- The eight foods that account for nearly 90 percent of serious food-induced allergic reactions include milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, fish, shellfish and wheat.
- Warning signs of an allergic reaction include hives, vomiting, diarrhea, cough/difficulty breathing and swelling occurring within minutes to no more than two hours after ingestion and occur with repeat ingestion.
- Symptoms and severity may vary. The symptoms and severity of allergic reactions to food can be different between individuals and can also be different for one person over time. Anaphylaxis is a sudden and severe allergic reaction that may cause death.
- Avoid allergic reactions by carefully reading food labels for ingredients; when dining out, ask about ingredients and how food is prepared; and avoid passing allergens to food by washing hands.
- Can food allergies be prevented? Recent research from the American Academy of Pediatrics shows that early introduction of allergens like peanuts could prevent peanut allergy. An appropriate time to talk about food introduction with your child’s pediatrician is at your child’s four-month well-visit.
Food allergy reactions can vary from person to person. Sometimes the same person can react differently at various times. So, it’s very important to quickly identify and treat food allergy reactions.
If your child might have a food allergy, your doctor or clinician will ask about:
- Your child’s symptoms
- How often the reaction happens
- The time it takes between eating a particular food and the start of symptoms
- Whether any family members have allergies or conditions like eczema and asthma
If needed, a referral to an allergist might be the next step as they will ask more questions and do a physical exam. The allergist probably will order tests to help make a diagnosis.
If your child has a food allergy, the allergist will help you create a treatment plan. Treatment usually means avoiding the allergen and all the foods that contain it.
Emmanuel Kwesiga, MD, FAAAAI is a pediatrician and allergy specialist with Ascension Medical Group at Weston. For more information, call 715-393-3860 or visit ascension.org/wisconsin.