Most parents worry about a lot of things during the early stages of their child’s life. One of those worries, which has grown increasingly over the years, is food allergies.
And it’s no wonder: More than 32 million Americans have food allergies, with an estimated 4-6 percent of children affected by it, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
As a parent, your little one’s safety is an absolute priority. Learn more about common food allergies in children and what you can do to identify, treat, and deal with them.
The Prevalence of Food Allergies in Children
“The CDC reported that between 1997-1999 and 2009-2011, the fraction of U.S. children who have at least one food allergy increased by 50 percent. And nationwide surveys conducted in 1997, 2002 and 2008 found that childhood allergies to peanuts or tree nuts more than tripled between 1997 and 2008,” says Dr. Thomas Casale, chief medical advisor for operations at Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE).
Nemours Children’s Health System allergist Dr. Stephen Dinetz also recognizes that more kids are dealing with food allergies today than 20 or 30 years ago. “The exact reasons why are not clear at this time, however there is a great deal of research attempted to discover the causes,” he says, noting that there are several factors that can play a part in common food allergies in children. These include genetics, environmental factors, the timing of when foods are introduced and even the kinds of bacteria in our digestive tract.
“Some studies have shown that delayed introduction of certain foods can actually increase the risk for developing a food allergy. That is why the American Academy of Pediatrics has changed the recommended introduction of peanut from 2 years of age to 4 months of age.”
Warning Signs of Food Allergies
So, what should parents be looking out for when it comes to their children and food allergies as they introduce new foods?
Minor Reactions and Symptoms
Mild to moderate symptoms from food allergies may include one or more of the following:
- Hives (reddish, swollen, itchy areas on the skin)
- Eczema flare (a persistent, itchy rash)
- Redness of the skin, particularly around the mouth or eyes
- Itchy mouth or ear canal
- Nausea or vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Nasal congestion or a runny nose
- Mild cough
- Odd/metallic taste in mouth
Severe Food Allergy Reactions and Symptoms
Severe symptoms may include one or more of the following:
- Swelling of the lips, tongue, and/or throat that blocks breathing
- Trouble swallowing/hoarseness
- Shortness of breath or wheezing
- Turning blue
- Drop in blood pressure (feeling faint, confused, weak, passing out)
- Loss of consciousness
- Chest pain
- A weak or “thready” pulse
- Sense of “impending doom”
Most Common Food Allergies in Children
The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology says that any food can cause an adverse reaction. The following types of food account for about 90 percent of all reactions:
- Tree Nuts
What to Do if You Suspect Your Child Has Food Allergies
First, immediately stop feeding your child that food, says Dr. Dinetz, who suggests discussing concerns with your child’s pediatrician as soon as possible. They may refer you to a board-certified allergist or immunologist if they are also concerned about a food allergy in your child.
“Do not diagnose a food allergy on your own,” Dr. Casale says. “Self-diagnosis can lead to unnecessary dietary restrictions and inadequate nutrition, especially in children. Additionally, some people think they are allergic to a food when they actually have another type of food disorder that requires different treatment.”
If you child is having a severe reaction to food, seek medical attention right away.
Dealing With Food Allergies in Children
First, parents should always read food labels, “even if the child has eaten the food 100 times, manufacturing processes may change and foods may contain allergens that were not present previously,” says Dr. Dinetz.
“And avoid products with precautionary labeling for your allergens, such as ‘may contain’ or ‘made on shared equipment.’ If you don’t know for certain that a food is free of your allergens, don’t let your child eat it,” says Dr. Casale.
Secondly, avoid eating in restaurants or public places where you cannot be sure of the ingredients in your child’s food, says Dr. Dinetz. If you have to go to a restaurant, “Research it first and call ahead to speak with the manager,” Dr. Casale adds. “Also, bring a chef card that explains your kid’s allergens in language that the waitstaff and kitchen staff can read. It’s best to eat early in the shift, when staff are less busy and the kitchen is cleaner.”
Lastly, and most importantly for dealing with food allergies in children, always carry an epinephrine auto-injector wherever you go.
“Epinephrine is the only medication that can halt severe reaction symptoms and buy time for emergency treatment,” Dr. Casale says. “What caused a mild reaction in one case can cause a severe reaction the next time, so you should always be prepared to treat life-threatening symptoms.”
Outgrowing Food Allergies
Although there is data showing that children can outgrow food allergies, “not all food allergies are created equal,” Dr. Dinetz says. “Egg and milk are the two food allergies that children most commonly outgrow, however, children with anaphylactic reactions to peanut may only have a 20 percent chance of outgrowing their allergy.”
Dr. Casale adds that there is data stating that having a mild to moderate reaction history improved the odds of outgrowing an allergy, as did having only one food allergy. Also, children who developed food allergies at an earlier age are more likely to outgrow the allergy than children who developed food allergies at a later age.
“Families should work with their allergist to determine if and when it is safe to reintroduce foods of concern,” says Dr. Dinetz.
Opt for Allergy-Friendly Foods
When it comes to children and food allergies, erring on the safe side is always for the best. Yumble has as a variety of allergy-friendly meals and snacks, including those with no soy, no milk, and no nuts. As you select your weekly meals, you can filter by these common food allergies and ensure your child is only getting fresh, nutritious, and allergy-safe meals.
Whether you’re looking to feed your family safe vegetarian meals for kids or looking for an easy summer camp meal that’s appropriate for all young campers, we have delicious and nutritious options. Our Protein Poppers, for example, are a popular option that are nut-free and gluten free, and contain no egg, soy, or milk. They’re easy to pack when traveling with kids, and like all of our meals, is sure to please even the pickiest eaters.
Looking for an easy way to feed your kids allergy-friendly and nutritious meals? Yumble delivers fresh, delicious, fully prepared kids' meals right to your doorstep. Simply pick the plan that works best for your family, choose your weekly meals that you can filter by common food allergies, and Yumble will take care of the rest! No cooking required!