Food hypersensitivity is an adverse body reaction to a food ingredient that does not cause such a reaction in healthy people. It can be allergic, i.e., one that engages the immune system, or non-allergic, based on non-immune mechanisms, such as food intolerance. It is estimated that up to 8% of children suffer from food allergies, especially in infancy and early school. Food allergens are responsible for the symptoms of this disease.
Food Allergy Symptoms
Food allergy symptoms in children usually appear quickly, facilitating the diagnosis of this ailment. Although we are talking about food allergens, the symptoms may concern not only the digestive tract. This disease can manifest as:
- Ailments of the digestive system, i.e., vomiting, diarrhea, flatulence, which some may misdiagnosed as baby colic, and try to solve the problem by choosing another food with other baby formula ingredients.
- Skin ailments. Allergic skin symptoms are non-specific and can take many forms, including atopic dermatitis, allergic rashes, urticaria, angioedema, pruritus, contact eczema, and more.
- Problems with the respiratory system. Allergy symptoms can include a runny nose and a cough (often intensifying at night, paroxysmal and dry).
- Conjunctivitis, tearing, or burning eyes.
- Anaphylactic shock.
All symptoms should always be consulted with a specialist doctor.
Risk Factors for Food Allergy
The main risk factors for a food allergy include:
- occurrence of allergic diseases in parents or siblings;
- severe atopic dermatitis in the baby in the first 3 months;
- child’s age (allergy to food is more common in the youngest children);
- food allergy in a child in the past and current allergy to other allergens, e.g., pollen;
- asthma (often co-occurring with food allergy with more severe symptoms).
The Most Common Food Allergens
- Cow’s milk proteins. These are the most common allergens in children causing food allergies. Cow’s milk proteins include casein and whey proteins. In children diagnosed with cow’s milk allergy, cross-reactions with meat products such as beef and veal sometimes occur, which is why accurate diagnosis by a doctor is so important. A significant percentage of children “grow out” food allergies in this group.
- Eggs. This product is the second most common food allergen in children. Most babies tolerate boiled or baked eggs better than raw eggs. As in the case of allergy to cow’s milk proteins, tolerance to egg allergens is also acquired in most children with age.
- Fish, mollusks, and crustaceans. Fish and seafood proteins are extremely strong allergens, and even a trace amount can cause a dangerous anaphylactic reaction. Allergies of this type are more common in adults than in children. This type of allergy remains lifelong in most sufferers.
- Wheat. Wheat proteins are the most allergic of all grains. This allergy affects mainly children over 3 years and adults. Up to 96% of children up to 16 years develop a tolerance to wheat proteins.
- Soy. Allergy to soy proteins is not common in healthy children. Children with cow’s milk allergy are more likely to be allergic to soy, so soy formulas should not be used in infant nutrition.
- Peanuts and other nuts. Peanut allergens, as well as fish and seafood, are sometimes severe allergens. Allergic reactions occur in both adults and children and usually remain lifelong.
- Citrus fruit. Citrus allergens can cause contact, inhalation, and food allergies. These allergens occur in food products, but very often also in perfumed products, such as body lotions, toilet waters, or air fresheners.
Other food allergens include celery, carrots, apples, peaches, and more.
Treatment and Diagnosis of Food Allergy
If you suspect your child has a food allergy, contact your doctor. If your pediatrician thinks your baby has a food allergy, they usually recommend checking with an allergist. The specialist will check a medical history, examine the child, and order additional tests to make a diagnosis. One such test is the skin test. It consists of placing liquid extracts of food allergens on the child’s skin, puncturing the skin, and checking whether reddish raised spots have appeared within 15 minutes. In addition, a blood test helps to determine whether the child’s body has antibodies to certain foods.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for food allergies. Treatment is usually limited to avoiding the allergen and all foods that contain it. Currently, product packaging contains detailed information on their composition. Just take a moment to read the label.
In treating food allergies, antihistamines are also used, which help to relieve some allergy symptoms. If your child has asthma attacks due to food allergies, the doctor will usually prescribe a bronchodilator.