Food allergies and your child

A food allergy can develop at any age and cause a variety of symptoms

For some children, allergies come once a year during certain seasons and cause minor symptoms and discomfort.  But for others with severe food allergies, every day can be filled with uncertainty and anxiety, as ingestion of a specific food can cause a reaction that requires prompt medical attention.

It is estimated that 4 million American children have food allergies, which can cause a variety of symptoms, from minor to severe, that affect the skin, gut, eyes, nose, throat, breathing, and even the cardiovascular system.  A food allergy can develop at any time and is defined as an abnormal reaction of the immune system to a food.  A very small amount of a food item can cause a large response because the immune system’s reaction, once started, can expand rapidly.  

Children as young as weeks old can have a food allergy. It is thought that breast-fed babies may even have reactions to foods in his or her mother’s diets. Anyone can develop a food allergy, but patients most at risk are those with other allergic diseases or who have a strong family history.

The most common foods that cause allergic reactions in children include milk, eggs, wheat, soy and peanuts.  The cause of food allergies is unknown. Many children will outgrow milk, egg, wheat and soy allergy; peanut, tree nut, and seafood allergies tend to be life-long.

The first step in diagnosing a food allergy is obtaining a good, detailed history.  If your child develops skin, abdominal or respiratory symptoms within an hour of eating a specific food, this may indicate an allergy. The symptoms can increase and last for hours, but typically resolve in less than 24 hours.  Currently, the only treatment for food allergy is avoidance and this works well.

It is important to know that in rare cases food allergies can be fatal. Therefore, emergency medicines should be available at all times to address a reaction in the event that accidental ingestion occurs. Children need emergency medicine both at home and at daycare or school. 

If you have any questions or suspect your child has a food allergy, talk to your child’s doctor about working with your family to manage your child’s allergy diagnosis, treatment and ongoing care.

Susan A. Schaefer, MD is a Pediatric Allergist at CHaD. For more information, go to

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