Resources

Food Allergies

Dr. M. Vijayalakshmi, M.D (Peds), M.D (USA), F.A.A.P

Food allergies occur when your immune system makes a mistake. Normally, your immune system protects you from germs and diseases. It does so by making antibodies that help you fight off bacteria, viruses, and other tiny organisms that can make you sick. But if you have a food allergy, your immune system tries to treat proteins in certain foods as if it is dangerous to your body.

How can I know if my child has a food related allergy?

A food allergy occurs when the body’s immune system reacts against normally harmless proteins in foods. The reaction usually happens shortly after a food is eaten. Food allergy reactions can vary from mild to very severe.

Usual Symptoms are:
  • Skin problems
    • Hives (red spots)
    • Skin rashes which are itchy
    • Swelling in different parts of the body
    • Breathing problems
    • Sneezing
    • Wheezing
    • Throat tightness
  • Stomach symptoms
    • Vomiting
    • Nausea
    • Diarrhea
    • Pale skin
    • Light-headedness, Loss of consciousness

If several areas of the body are affected, the reaction may be severe or even life-threatening. This type of allergic reaction is called anaphylaxis and requires emergency medical attention.

What is not a food allergy

Food can cause many illnesses that are at times confused with food allergies. The following are not food allergies:

  • Food poisoning—Can cause diarrhea or vomiting, but is usually caused by bacteria in spoiled food or undercooked food.
  • Skin irritation—Can often be caused by acids found in such foods as orange juice or tomato products.
  • Diarrhea—Can occur in small children from too much sugar, such as from fruit juices.

Mild food-related illnesses are called intolerance, or a food sensitivity, rather than an allergy because the immune system is not causing the problem. Lactose intolerance is an example of a food intolerance that is often confused witha food allergy. Lactose intolerance is when a person has trouble digesting milk sugar, called lactose, leading to stomachaches, bloating, and loose stools.

Sometimes reactions to the chemicals added to foods, such as dyes or preservatives, are mistaken for a food allergy. However, while some people may be sensitive to certain food additives, it is very rare to be allergic to them.

Foods that can cause food allergies

Any food could cause a food allergy, but most food allergies are caused by the following:

  • Cow milk
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Soy
  • Wheat
  • Tree nuts (such as walnuts, pistachios, pecans, cashews)
  • Fish
  • Shellfish (such as shrimp, lobster)

Peanuts, nuts, and seafood are the most common causes of severe reactions. Allergies also occur to other foods such as meats, fruits, vegetables, grains, and some seeds.

The good news is that food allergies are often outgrown during early childhood. It is estimated that 80% to 90% of egg, milk, wheat, and soy allergies go away by age 5 years. Some allergies are more persistent. For example, 1 in 5 young children will outgrow a peanut allergy and fewer will outgrow allergies to nuts or seafood. Your pediatrician or allergist can perform tests to track your child's food allergies and watch to see if they are going away.