Food allergies affect 12 million Americans, more than 3 million of
whom are children. Food intolerances affect even more Americans. This article
contains information on what we know about food allergies, the difference
between a food allergy and a food intolerance, and what we can do to prevent
Food allergies and intolerances can make something as simple as
sitting down to a family meal difficult. It can require careful label reading
and cooking with different ingredients.
Most Common Food
- Tree nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds, cashews, etc.)
Most Common Food Intolerances:
- Tree Nuts
What is a food
Food allergies occur when the body makes a mistake. Your immune
(say: IHMYOON) system usually protects you from bacteria and viruses that make
you sick. But if you have a food allergy, your immune system mistakenly thinks
a food is harmful and releases chemicals and histamines (say: HISS-TUH-MEAN).
These chemicals trigger the symptoms of an allergic reaction. What are some of
the symptoms of a food allergy reaction? The most common symptom of a
food-allergy reaction is hives. Other symptoms can include one or more of the
- Tingling in the mouth
- Swelling in the tongue and throat
- Difficulty breathing
- Abdominal cramps
About 1 in every 25 kids have food allergies.
Can children outgrow food
About half of the children who develop a food allergy during the
first year of life outgrow it by the time they are 2 or 3 years old. Milk and
soy allergies are more often outgrown than other food allergies.
Call 911 IMMEDIATELY if you suspect your child is having an allergic reaction that is making him wheeze or have difficulty breathing.
Food Allergies vs. Food
You may know someone that gets an upset stomach, gas, bloating, or
diarrhea if they have any type of dairy products. They may say, "I love ice
cream but it doesn’t love me." This may be a food intolerance rather than a
food allergy. One of the most common food intolerances is Lactose Intolerance.
How do I know the
Lactose Intolerance is different than a milk allergy. An
intolerance is typically when your digestive system has trouble processing
foods that you have eaten. With a food intolerance many people can have a small
amount of the food and still feel fine or have a small amount of gastric upset.
With a food allergy, even a small amount can cause a reaction of the immune system.
Someone who is allergic to a food will typically react to it in a very short
time. Someone who has a food intolerance may not react for several hours. The
symptoms of both can be very similar. They include hives, vomiting, diarrhea,
and cramping. You can see that knowing the difference between a food allergy
and food intolerance is tricky. Help your doctor make a correct diagnosis by
keeping good notes and a food diary if possible.
Keep a Food Diary
If you think you have a food allergy or intolerance, keep an
accurate food diary for a couple of weeks. This will help your doctor with a
correct diagnosis and plan of treatment. Write down what you ate, when you ate
it, and how long after you ate it that you got a negative reaction. Of course
if are having very severe reactions after eating a food, forget the diary and
go to a doctor who can begin testing immediately. Some children may be at a
higher risk for developing food allergies. Among the risk factors for food
- having a family member (especially a parent or a sibling) with
- having other allergic type disorders, such as hay fever and/or
asthma, or having family members with these disorders
- having other food or formula allergies
Is your child at high-risk for
If food allergies run in your family, you may be able to prevent
or delay their development in your children by taking the following precautions
when they are babies.
Preventing food allergies in
- Breast-feed infants for at least one year. It is rare for a
baby to be “allergic” to breastmilk. However, babies can be sensitive to
certain foods a mom eats that passes through the milk.
- Delay introducing solid foods until your baby is 6 months old.
The intestinal tract is more developed by then.
- Introduce solid foods one at a time to see if an allergic
reaction occurs. Begin with those foods least likely to trigger an allergic
reaction. Rice cereal and bananas are a good place to start.
- Delay introduction of potentially allergenic foods such as milk
and eggs until your baby is 1 year old. Peanuts should be avoided until age 2, and
longer if there is a history of food allergies in your family.