Signs and symptoms of food allergies in children

Happy girl playing in room

An allergic reaction to food occurs when the body’s immune system misinterprets or overreacts to a protein in food, identifying it as harmful or dangerous and triggering a protective response.

Any food has the potential to cause an allergic response and so far, over 160 foods have been identified! However, only these eight foods account for about 90% of all reactions:

  1. Milk
  2. Eggs
  3. Peanuts
  4. Tree Nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds, cashews, pistachios)
  5. Soy
  6. Wheat
  7. Fish
  8. Crustacean Shellfish (shrimp, crab and lobster)

Also be aware that certain seeds, including sesame and mustard seeds, are common food allergy triggers and are considered major allergens in other countries.

How do you know if your child has a food allergy? Symptoms of an allergic reaction may involve the skin, the digestive system, the cardiovascular system, and/or the respiratory tract and can vary from person to person, and from incident to incident. It’s important to know that a mild reaction can occur on one occasion and a severe reaction to the same food may occur on a subsequent occasion. This range of reactions may include:

  • Hives (red spots that look like mosquito bites)
  • Itchy skin rashes (eczema, also called atopic dermatitis)
  • Swelling to the lips and face
  • Sneezing, stuffy or runny nose
  • Repetitive coughing or wheezing
  • Throat tightness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Cramping
  • Pale skin
  • Light-headedness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Anaphylaxis, which requires immediate medical treatment. Anaphylaxis is a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction that can occur within seconds to minutes of exposure to an offending allergen. It can, among other things, cause a sudden drop in blood pressure and impair breathing. If your child has known allergies, make sure you speak to your physician or allergist to get an emergency plan in place so that you are always prepared.

Know that food allergies and food intolerances are NOT the same. Unlike food allergies, food intolerances do not involve the immune system and are not life-threatening. Instead, they represent a lack of a particular digestive enzyme that is required for a certain food. While intolerances are more likely to be transient than allergies, their symptoms can be more variable. Sometimes the symptoms of an intolerance and of a true allergy can overlap (lactose intolerance and milk allergy being a perfect example – often confused but not one in the same), making a diagnosis more difficult and motherhood more fraught. If you suspect your child has a food intolerance, speak with your physician, and talk with a Happy Family Coach to get an individualized diet plan in place.

What to Do

Avoid any known food allergies

Thoroughly read food labels and ingredient list of products, avoid products inadequately label or that you suspect may contain an allergen your child should avoid

Familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction

Keep a food log

If you have a mother’s “sixth sense” that your baby or child may be exhibiting signs and symptoms of an intolerance or allergy, start keeping a food log that includes the food(s), beverage(s), time and date of consumption, and any other outside factors (like a new school or daycare, change of laundry detergent, soap, lotion, or other household products, smoke exposure etc.) that could be significant in explaining the reaction.

Be prepared to combat exposure to an allergen

If you or your child has already been diagnosed with a food allergy, keep antihistamine and epinephrine (if prescribed by your physician) with you (or with your child if she is away from you) at all times. Speak with your pediatrician or allergist to have a plan of action in place should exposure to an allergen occur.

Consult your child’s doctor for support

If you suspect a food intolerance. If any signs or symptoms of a food allergy occur, consult with your child’s doctor for evaluation as soon as possible. And if your baby experiences any severe reactions (like difficulty breathing, swelling, severe vomiting or diarrhea), call 911 immediately.