Sense and Sensitivity: Understanding Food Allergies in Kids

When do food allergies first appear?
Food allergy can begin at any point in life, but most commonly it begins in the first three years of life.

What foods are children commonly allergic to?
The most common foods include egg, cows' milk, wheat, peanuts, soy and tree nuts. So that's a list of six foods that account for about 95 percent of reactions in children.

What kinds of reactions do people with food allergy have?
One of the important characteristics of reactions in food allergy is that the reaction typically occurs within minutes and always within one to two hours after eating the food. Another characteristic is that reactions occur each and every time that particular food is ingested.

The types of symptoms that occur can affect the skin, the gut, the respiratory tract, and even the cardiovascular system. Skin reactions include itching, redness, hives, or swelling. Gastrointestinal tract symptoms include abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. They may also include itching of the lips or the mouth. A more severe reaction may lead to swelling of the tongue.

Respiratory symptoms can be hay fever-type symptoms, such as sneezing, nasal congestion, runny nose and itchy, watery eyes. Throat tightness, coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing or chest tightness may occur. One might have a fall in blood pressure, and an increase in heart rate. People might feel dizzy, or actually faint.


Very severe reactions are generally termed anaphylaxis. Unfortunately, food allergies are potentially fatal and it's estimated that perhaps 150 Americans die of a food allergy reaction each year. The fatalities are usually associated with an accidental exposure away from home to a food that that individual already knew they were allergic to.

How can parents distinguish between a colicky baby and one with a food allergy?
Food allergy may induce colic, but it's not the most common reason for it. If parents have a child who is very irritable or colicky, they should talk to their pediatrician about making a change in the baby's formula to see whether that results in any improvement. Suspicion of a food allergy would be increased if that fussy baby also has not only gastrointestinal symptoms, but also skin problems such as atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, which is an allergic skin condition that is characterized by red, raised rashes that itch.

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