9 Things To Know About Kids + Food Allergies

It’s not an understatement to say that my parenting evolved considerably when we realized that Violet has a serious food allergy. Not only did we develop a new level of food awareness for her, but we developed a new level of food awareness for other people. In a way, I feel like this is one way Violet’s food allergies have given us a gift of empathy and awareness; whenever we are hosting someone who has food allergies, I make it my mission to set out a spread where everyone can eat everything! The reality is, for most people, if you’re not dealing with food allergies every day in your household, it’s just not on your radar the same way. We have had to repeatedly remind close friends and family about Violet’s allergy and always read labels or ask questions about food that is laid out.

That said, I do feel like more and more, parents who don't deal immediately with food allergies in their household are more tuned in to the issue. So as part of an ongoing editorial partnership with Tufts Medical Center, I was thrilled to check in with Dr. Scott Schroeder, Chief of Pediatric Pulmonology and Allergy, who shares 9 things to know about kids and food allergies. Please share this with your parent friends so we can all level up our food allergy awareness and keep kids safe!

1. What are the most common food allergies in children today?

There are 7 common food allergies:

  • Cow’s milk

  • Hen’s eggs

  • Peanuts

  • Wheat

  • Soy

  • Tree nuts

  • Shellfish

2. Which food allergies are the most challenging for parents?

Milk protein allergies can be challenging since a milk allergy has been blamed for just about all maladies of infancy. The signs and symptoms can be non-specific and similar to colic, excess irritability, and, on the extreme end, bloody diarrhea and chronic vomiting. Fortunately, a cow’s milk allergy tends to resolve through childhood.

Peanuts and tree nuts are also challenging, but for a different reason. In children they are the most common offenders for severe, life-threatening allergic reactions. These reactions can include swelling of the throat or tongue, difficulty breathing, rapid heart rate, and/or shock. Children who develop these symptoms need to be treated with epinephrine and evaluated in an emergency room.

3. What are preliminary signs that your child may have allergies?

Allergic reactions can occur up to two hours after eating a food, which may cause a wide spectrum of reactions; from an itchy mouth and hives to difficulty breathing. Preliminary signs or symptoms that a child may have allergies are hives or eczema, or rashes that do not resolve.

4. When should a parent bring a child or baby to see a doctor?

Parents should trust their instincts. If they think something is wrong with their child, they are usually right and should schedule an appointment with his or her pediatrician for guidance. This is especially true for babies and children born with food-allergy risk factors.

5. What are some risk factors parents should be aware of?

Up to one in three parents report adverse food reactions in their children, although the studies report that only between five and ten percent of children have true immune-system mediated food allergies.

Children with eczema or a family history of allergies are at an increased risk of developing food allergies. In infants with the aforementioned risk factors, recent studies show that delayed introduction of certain foods after four to six months of age may increase the risk of allergy. Introducing risky foods as early as possible is best.

9 things to know about kids and food allergies

9 things to know about kids and food allergies

6. What are common treatments for allergies?

Common treatment for allergic disorders is dependent upon the offending agent. If it found to be a food that the child is allergic to, then avoidance of the food and educations are the primary treatments. Depending upon the food, children can potentially outgrow their food allergy but if there was associated anaphylaxis, they may need to have an allergy action plan available for all of their caregivers as well as access to epinephrine and an individualized allergy action plan.

For chronic congestion or respiratory issues, treatment with oral antihistamines, inhaled nasal sprays and in severe cases, immunotherapy may be helpful to treat and/or prevent allergic diseases.

If parents have further questions about allergies and how to treat them, there are websites, the Food Allergy Network or the website for the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology that are helpful and will help answer common questions and direct parents to how to find professionals to help their child.

7. Can allergies change or resolve?

Food allergies can resolve dependent upon the food and the severity of the allergic reaction. Parentally reported food allergies have increased from three percent to six percent over the past twenty years. However, reported food allergies decrease to about three percent by adolescence.

Studies have also shown that peanut allergies are increasing in the United States, although a number of children have been found to lose their sensitivity over time. About twenty percent of children outgrow their peanut allergy, and about nine percent outgrow their tree nut allergy. Wheat allergies are also commonly outgrown.

8. Do allergies ever develop in older children or adults?

The majority of food allergies are acquired in the first two years of life. Food allergies can develop at any age, but the most common allergies that teenagers and adults develop are to shellfish and fish. These allergies usually are life-long and severe.

9. What are some tips you recommend to parents of children with food allergies?

A parent should know how to read labels on packaged foods, educate their child’s schools, summer camps, and childcare providers, and create a personalized allergy action plan. This plan would include:

  • A list of foods the child is allergic to

  • Signs and symptoms that they may have during an allergic reaction

  • Medications used to treat the child’s allergy

  • Emergency contact information

To book an appointment with Dr. Schroeder, call the Pulmonology + Allergy Department at: 617-636-7917 or fill out an online request.

Tufts Medical Center is a renowned not-for-profit academic medical center in downtown Boston. Floating Hospital for Children is the full-service children’s hospital of Tufts Medical Center. Both are the principal teaching hospitals of Tufts University School of Medicine. Tufts MC and the Floating Hospital offer a full range of services including primary care, OBGYN services in all areas of women’s health, and dedicated pediatric and adult emergency rooms.

Disclaimer: The content provided in this post is intended solely for the information of the reader. This information is not medical advice and should not replace a consultation with a medical professional.

Disclosure: This post reflects a compensated editorial partnership. Personal commentary by Christine Koh is, of course, her own!