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Food Allergies in Children
By Lawrence Larson, DO, MultiCare Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital & Health Center
Food allergies in children are often confused with other food intolerance or behavioral changes. A food allergy is an immediate immune reaction to a particular food or beverage. Lactose intolerance or hyperactivity after eating sweets does not indicate a food allergy.
Symptoms of food allergies are different for everyone. Mild to moderate reactions usually cause skin rash, GI upset or more subjective symptoms such as “ill feeling” or behavior changes.
In some cases, severe food reactions can cause anaphylactic shock – a severe allergic reaction that occurs within minutes of exposure. Symptoms include swelling of lips, tongue or throat, nausea and vomiting, difficulty breathing, rapid pulse, stomach pain, hives and drowsiness. These reactions can be life threatening and should not be ignored. Common foods causing allergy include peanuts, tree nuts, cow’s milk, egg whites, shellfish and whitefish.
Parents often ask how much food it takes to trigger an allergic reaction. However, allergic reactions don’t depend on the quantity of the food, but on what type of food the child is sensitive to. Most children who are allergic to milk, soy and wheat outgrow their allergies, but allergies to peanuts, nuts, fish and shellfish are almost never outgrown.
Testing for allergies can be accurately done with skin testing, blood testing (CAP RAST) or challenge testing in an appropriate setting, such as Mary Bridge Children’s Health Center or a physician’s office.
To prevent symptoms of food allergies:
- Follow the instructions given by your child’s doctor
- Read ingredient labels on food packages and avoid foods that cause reactions
- When eating out, ask about the ingredients used in restaurant foods
- Always carry your child’s medication, such as EpiPen, for emergency use
- Have your child wear a Medic Alert bracelet that lists allergies and care instructions
- Set guidelines for your child: Do not trade food. Do not eat food unless it comes from home
The most important thing is to treat allergies early, as soon as child starts to show symptoms. Also, educate your child’s teachers and classmates, and develop an action plan in case of allergic reactions.
Other promising therapies are coming in the near future. In the meantime, if you know your child is allergic to a certain type of food, the best prevention is to not expose them to it!
Dr. Lawrence Larson is a pediatric allergy, immunology and pulmonary specialist at Pediatrics Northwest who sees patients at MultiCare Mary Bridge Children’s Health Center. He can be reached at 253-383-5777 or 253-403-3131.
Posted on Jun 29, 2010 in Kids' Health