Advice Column

Food allergies in children

Allergies seem to be on the increase and often parents think their child is allergic to a particular food without a proper diagnosis. It is therefore imperative that a health care provider accurately diagnose a food allergy.

What is an allergy?

Allergies are abnormal immune system reactions to things that are typically harmless to most people. Allergies occur when our body reacts to a ‘trigger’ or allergen. Symptoms, or reactions, can range from annoying to serious including itchy eyes or body, sneezing, and a stuffy nose. Sometimes symptoms can be severe and cause difficulty in breathing or anaphylaxis, which requires emergency treatment.

An allergic reaction occurs when the immune system reacts to something harmless to other people. If you are allergic to something, eating it, inhaling it, injecting it or even touching it can bring on an allergic reaction.

Food can also cause an allergic reaction and these foods should be avoided. In South Africa, a food allergy occurs in around 2.5% of 1-3 year-olds. Eight foods account for most of these allergies: cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts, soy, wheat, and fish and shellfish. These ingredients will always be labelled on foods and thus always read the label of all foods you feed your child.

  • Cow’s milk (or cow’s milk protein): Between 2% and 3% of children younger than 3-years-old are allergic to the proteins found in cow’s milk and cow’s milk-based formulas. Most formulas are cow’s milk-based. Milk proteins also can be a hidden ingredient in prepared foods. Many kids outgrow milk allergies.
  • Eggs: Egg allergy can be a challenge for parents. Eggs are used in many of the foods kids eat — and in many cases, they’re “hidden” ingredients. Egg allergies tend to be outgrown in around two-thirds of children by 5 years or older.
  • Peanuts and tree nuts: Peanut allergies are on the rise, as are allergies to tree nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, and cashews. Most people do not outgrow peanut or tree nut allergies and research shows that only 16% of peanut-allergic children outgrow their peanut allergy.
  • Soy: Soy allergy is more common among babies than older kids. Many infants who are allergic to cow’s milk are also allergic to the protein in soy formulas. Soy proteins are often a hidden ingredient in prepared foods.
  • Wheat: Wheat proteins are found in many foods, and some are more obvious than others. Although wheat allergy is often confused with celiac disease (sensitivity to gluten found in wheat, rye, and barley), there is a difference. Wheat allergy can do more than make a person feel ill — like other food allergies, it also can cause a life-threatening reaction.
  • Fish and shellfish: These allergies are some of the more common adult food allergies and ones that people don’t usually outgrow. Fish and shellfish are from different families of food, so having an allergy to one does not necessarily mean someone will be allergic to the other.

Feeding a child with food allergies is challenging. Food pouch companies such as De-lish, label the allergens on their packaging that may be present in the ingredients used to make their pureed foods for babies and toddlers, thereby ensuring that you can eliminate the allergens from their diet.

Always be vigilant and inform caregivers of what to avoid for your child and what to do if your child has an allergic reaction. Severe allergies and anaphylaxis need specific treatment and it is recommended that you should get guidance from your health care provider. The good news is that children can often outgrow a food allergy.

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