Understanding Food Allergies in Children
It is estimated that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies – and 5.9 million of those Americans are children under the age of 18. According to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), that equates to about two children in every classroom.
Furthermore, the incidence of food allergies is on the rise – between 1997 and 2011, the Centers for Disease Control reported that the food allergies in children had increased by 50 percent, and between 1997 and 2008, peanut and tree nut allergies have tripled.
What’s more, food allergies can be life-threatening.
Every three minutes, an allergic reaction sends someone to the emergency room. 40 percent of children with food allergies have had a severe reaction called “anaphylaxis” – and the only treatment for anaphylaxis is epinephrine; not treating anaphylaxis with epinephrine can be fatal.
With statistics as startling as these, it is safe to say that we all need to know a little more about food allergies – for the safety of our children.
What Is a Food Allergy?
In a perfect world, when we eat food, nothing happens. Our bodies digest the food without any difficulty, and we use the food for nutrition.
However, when we have a food allergy, our body perceives that something foreign has entered our body. The food that we ingest is seen as a harmful and an allergic reaction begins – and a food allergy is born.
There are various types of food allergies, but they fall into two main categories:
- Immunoglobulin E (IgE) mediated: IgE antibodies are formed as a result of a reaction to offending foods. The body’s immune system produces these antibodies.
- Non-IgE mediated: the immune system is also responsible for this allergic response, but IgE antibodies are not formed. Some people have both IgE and non-IgE mediated food allergies.
The 8 Most Common Food Allergies in Children
Food allergies can occur in response to ingestion of any type of food. In fact, allergies have occurred to over 170 types of foods.
You may have noticed that on food labels, the ingredients have certain foods bolded and have statements such as “contains peanuts” or “may contain traces of peanuts and tree nuts” or “produced in a factory that handles nuts.” This is because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that certain foods list the most common allergens on food labels.
The most common allergens can be boiled down to eight allergens – they are commonly referred to as the “top eight” or the “big eight.”
The eight major food allergens are:
- Tree nuts (cashews, almonds, walnuts)
- Fish (such as bass, cod, flounder)
- Shellfish (such as crab, lobster, shrimp)
There is a growing amount of people with sesame allergy, but it has not been officially added to this list and has yet to be added to FDA requirements for allergen labeling.
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Will My Child Grow Out of Their Food Allergies?
The answer here is “yes and no.” It depends on what your child is allergic to, as well as various other factors.
According to Allergy Partners, favorable factors for outgrowing a food allergy include having a food allergy at an early age, having only mild or moderate food allergies, having only a single food allergy, and having eczema as the single symptom of food allergy. Your child is also more likely to outgrow a food allergy if their allergy is milk, egg, and soy.
Unfortunately, children with peanut, shellfish, fish, and tree nuts are not likely to outgrow their food allergies – studies estimate that only 20-25 percent of children outgrow their peanut allergy, but if they do, 80 percent outgrow it by the age of eight.
Symptoms of Anaphylaxis
Unfortunately, if you have a child with food allergies, you should know the symptoms of anaphylaxis – even if your child’s food allergies are mild.
Food allergies can worsen at any time – meaning that you may not think your child will have anaphylaxis, but it can still happen. What’s more, the symptoms progress quickly from “feeling strange” and a runny nose to full anaphylaxis.
Symptoms of anaphylaxis may include:
- Hives and swelling
- Trouble breathing
- Tightness in the throat
- Abdominal pain
- Hypotension (low blood pressure)
- Rapid heart rate
- Feeling of doom
- Cardiac arrest
You should ask your child’s physician for a prescription for an epinephrine auto-injector – and know how to use it. An epinephrine auto-injector should be carried at all times.
For instructions on how to use the epinephrine auto-injector, click here.