At one time, airplanes served peanuts and school lunches included peanut butter sandwiches. Now there are so many stories in the media and online about children’s food allergies, you may worry more about hurting your child with certain foods than making sure they get a balanced diet. Is this because food allergies are the latest scare, or are children’s good allergies really getting worse?
A Hot Topic
If your child has a food allergy, eating even the smallest bite or being exposed to certain foods or ingredients may trigger a reaction that results in swelling of the throat, mouth, and tongue; as well as hives and welts. In extreme cases, your child could develop vomiting and have trouble breathing.
Food allergies are an inappropriate response by the immune system to foods we consume or are exposed to. In fact, there has been a 50% increase in reported cases of food allergies in children between 1997 and 2011.
Why the increase?
What’s behind this increase? And why now? That’s a matter of ongoing research – and debate – but many medical professionals are pointing to an increase in the variety of foods available. Others say that overuse of cleansers and antibiotic soaps and hand sanitizers prevent the immune system from maturing to be able to survive a “dirty” environment. It’s possible that a home can be too clean, or a diet can be “too pure,” not allowing your system to adapt to the world around it.
What’s a food allergy and what isn’t?
Perhaps the increase in food allergies stems from confusion as to what exactly a good allergy is. That’s because the symptoms of food allergies can overlap with other digestive problems. For example, when a “trigger” food is eaten, the immune system sees the specific food as a threat, then responds with symptoms such as swelling of the throat, and trouble breathing. People often confuse this with food intolerance, which can also produce serious side effects, but instead they involve the digestive system, not the immune system. Examples of food intolerance include celiac disease, and intolerances to both gluten and lactose.
Protecting your child
If your child has food allergies, they most likely will be allergic to one of the “big eight” most common “trigger foods:”
- Milk and dairy products
- Tree nuts (e.g., almonds, cashews, walnuts)
- Fish (e.g., bass, cod, flounder)
- Shellfish (crab, lobster, shrimp, scallops, etc.)
- Soy and soy-based products
- Wheat and wheat products
Of course, other foods may cause allergies, as might certain additives and preservatives. If you notice any symptoms of food allergies in your child, don’t wait! If the symptoms are life-threatening and you do not have an epi pen or other emergency treatment handy, call 911 immediately. If your child’s reaction is minor but of concern, take your child to a pediatric allergist or urgent care center for testing.
If you child does have food allergies…
Be sure to keep medications at arm’s length at all times, as well as with the school nurse. Teach your child what is a trigger food and help them understand to avoid it at all times. Reinforce this with family, friends, and daycare providers. One bite could be all it takes to trigger a scary incident. There is some good news in that many children outgrow their food allergies.
It’s important to talk with your doctor about what type of symptoms your child has, and when they occur. That way you will know what you are dealing with, and how to prevent problems in the future. Tots ‘N’ Teens Pediatric Urgent Care in San Antonio is helping parents sidestep the overcrowded emergency room when situations permit. In addition to being more cost-effective, Tots ‘N’ Teens will save you precious time – so you and your little one can get back to life. Plus, Tots ‘N’ Teens employs board-certified pediatricians who are highly specialized at diagnosing food allergies and other illnesses in children. Check-in online, or call 210-267-5411 for more information.