Navigating Your Child’s Food Allergy

Food allergies are a common medical condition often detected during childhood.

Understanding Food Allergies

A food allergy occurs when the immune system reacts to a certain food or ingredient as if it were harmful. Approximately 90% of all food allergies are caused by milk, eggs, wheat, soy, tree nuts, peanuts, fish, or shellfish. One in every 13 children has a food allergy, and nearly 5% of children are diagnosed with one under the age of five. Certain allergies may be outgrown, while others are permanent.


Allergic reactions usually develop within a few minutes to an hour after eating the food. Symptoms include an itchy nose, sneezing, watery eyes, swelling of the throat, lips, or tongue, rashes, stomach cramps, and shortness of breath. In some cases, a food allergy can cause severe symptoms that require immediate medical attention.

Two girls talking to each other

Allergen Avoidance

Preventing contact with the allergen is the best way to help your child avoid an allergic reaction. Here are some tips to minimize risk:

  • Remove the allergen from the home. Even small amounts of the food can trigger a reaction.
  • When eating at a restaurant, never assume that you know the ingredients in a dish. Review the menu or ask your waiter to confirm the allergen isn’t an ingredient.
  • Avoid buffet-style dining. Cross-contamination of foods from using the same serving utensils between dishes may occur.
  • Inform your child’s school about the food allergy so their teacher can be sensitive to food shared in the classroom.

Treatment and Outlook

An allergy specialist can determine whether your child has any food allergies. While avoiding the allergen is the best way to avoid allergy triggers, medications can also be prescribed to reduce the immune system’s reaction and ease symptoms. You may need to carry emergency epinephrine shots to use in case your child has a severe allergic reaction.

An Expert Weighs In

“The clearest way to think of a true food allergy is to think that every time this food is eaten it causes a life-threatening reaction. Many foods can cause many symptoms but not all are caused by the allergy cell. If the allergy cell is involved, you get a very specific, potentially life-threatening reaction. It is important to understand the difference between intolerance or sensitivity versus true allergy. If it is a true allergy, you must avoid the food and carry two epinephrine pens at all times. A board-certified allergist can help you determine if you have a true food allergy.”

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