9 Irksome Food Allergies In Children And Tips To Avoid Them

Peter was excited about eating cake. He had a few bites, and then the sneezing began. His nose started running, and he felt nauseated. His skin began to itch, and in less than a minute, he had hives on his hands. When his mom rushed him to the hospital, doctors told her that it was an allergic reaction to the egg in the cake.

One in 13 kids in the US has food allergies. Food allergies in children can be dangerous if neglected. MomJunction explains you about the types of food allergies, their symptoms and treatment options you have.

All About Food Allergies:

Can a child say he is allergic to greens because he doesn’t like them? Nice try! But allergy has nothing to do with what your child likes or doesn’t like.

A food allergy is the immune system’s negative response to a protein, which is otherwise harmless. The proteins are called allergens and can trigger an allergic reaction. When the immune system sees the food as a threat, it triggers a response that can result in swelling, hives, rashes on the skin, itching, etc.

Food allergy: or is it food intolerance?

Food allergies and intolerances, are they one and the same?

No. Food intolerance is a condition where the body has a chemical reaction to the food you eat. It is much more prevalent than food allergy and is not triggered by the immune system. People may not always be intolerant to a particular food. However, they can develop it because of an enzyme defect in the body, or side effects of medication, or irritable bowel syndrome.

Can my child be allergic?

Here is an interesting statistic: 15 million Americans suffer from food allergies. Children are most commonly affected; they are born with it or develop as they grow up. They are more vulnerable if both or either of their parents is allergic.

Foods (Allergens) That Can Trigger A Reaction

Food allergies are specific, in the sense that your child may be allergic to a particular food or category of foods having a type of protein that the immune system sees as a threat. While any food can cause an allergic reaction, the foods mentioned below are the most common allergens. According to the rules of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), manufacturers are required to mention the presence of these foods, on the labels.

  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts
  • Milk
  • Soy
  • Wheat
  • Egg
  • Shellfish
  • Fish
  • Sesame seeds

Together, these nine foods are responsible for over 90% food allergies in people.

Here are more facts and stats:

  • One in every 13 children has some food allergy. That comes to roughly two children in each classroom!
  • Teenagers and young adults with allergies have the highest risk of anaphylaxis.
  • The number of children with food allergies is only growing, but scientists have no idea why!
  • Every three minutes, one person goes to the emergency section due to a food allergy. (1)

9 Types Of Food Allergies In Kids

Food allergy can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender and ethnicity. Read on to learn about specific food allergies your kid might have.

1. Peanut allergy:

Peanuts are the most common allergens that lead to reactions ranging from mild to fatal. Around 0.6% of children in the US have a peanut allergy. Peanut allergy is considered to be one of the most dangerous because it can result in a condition called anaphylaxis, which can be life-threatening.

A person who is allergic and highly sensitive to peanuts can get affected by something as basic as peanut dust or traces of the peanut protein. This means if your child is highly allergic to peanuts, then they might have an allergic reaction even without eating it. Know the symptoms that indicate the allergy:


A person with an allergic reaction to peanuts would have the following symptoms:

  • Runny nose
  • Itchy skin, puffiness or swelling of the skin, lips, and face
  • Breathlessness and wheezing
  • Tightening of the throat, a choking feeling
  • Digestive problems such as diarrhea, nausea, stomach cramps and vomiting
  • Hives breaking out on the skin
  • Redness around the mouth, lips, and throat

Signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis triggered by an allergic reaction to peanuts include:

  • Swelling of the throat
  • Dizziness, loss of consciousness
  • Rapid heart beat
  • Shock – rapid drop of blood pressure and paleness of skin
  • Constricted airways

Prevention and treatment:

Prevention is always better than cure because food allergies do not have a definite cure. The best way to keep your child safe is to avoid foods that may contain peanuts.

However, there are times when the food manages to find its way into the child’s body. So it is important to be prepared for an allergic reaction. The most common way to handle peanut allergy in children is by injecting a dose of epinephrine when there is a reaction.

If your child has a high peanut allergy, ensure that:

  • He or she always carries a shot of epinephrine with them.
  • He or she always has a spare injection.
  • You talk to the doctor about how to use the injection and when to use it.

Teach your child to call 911 and use the injection in case there is no one around. This will help them get a hold on the reaction before medical help arrives.

When to see a doctor:

If your child has a severe reaction to peanuts and is showing signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis, it is a medical emergency and warrants a trip to the emergency room. The doctor will give the child an epinephrine injection and may also keep him under observation until all the symptoms subside.

Read food labels for peanuts:

According to the FDA rule, a manufacturer has to clearly mention “peanuts” or “peanut” as an ingredient on the food labels. Some foods may have advisory statements like “may contain peanuts”. Some may even mention that the product is made in a facility that had peanuts, although it is not mandatory. So, ask your doctor if you can eat foods with such labels and follow a strict diet.

The good news is that research indicates 20% children with peanut allergy outgrow it (2).

2. Tree nut allergy:

There are a variety of tree nuts out there, in different shapes and sizes. Tree nuts are those that grow on trees, and unlike legumes, contain a single seed in each shell. Children allergic to tree nuts should not be eating nuts such as almonds, walnuts, hazelnut, cashew nut and Brazil nuts, among others. Tree nut allergy is as dangerous as peanut allergy as it can also lead to anaphylaxis.

Symptoms of tree nut allergy are:

  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • A runny nose or congestion in the nasal region, shortness of breath in some cases
  • Abdominal cramps, pain
  • Itching of throat, skin, eyes or other areas

If you find any of these symptoms in your child after they eat a tree nut laden food, then take them to the nearest hospital or call emergency medical care for the antidote. Also consult an allergist as soon as possible.

Prevention and treatment:

The only way to prevent a nut allergy, like any other food allergy, is to avoid eating any tree nuts. As the allergy can lead to serious side effects, it is good to avoid foods that have even traces of tree nuts. Although peanuts are not tree nuts, people with a tree nut allergy may also be allergic to them. Likewise, around 25 to 40% people with peanut allergy may also have a reaction to tree nuts (3). So avoid peanuts too, to be on the safe side.

Tree nuts are used in some dishes, mostly as toppings in Asian cuisine, ice creams, baked goods such as cakes, bread, cookies, biscuits, and desserts.

  • Tell your child not to eat any foods with these ingredients.
  • Teach them to read the labels on food products.
  • If they are going to a party, tell the host about their allergy. Also, make it a habit for them to ask about the ingredients of the food if offered by a friend or acquaintance.
  • Avoid eating foods with tree nut flavors.
  • Some soaps, lotions and other cosmetics and body care products may also contain traces of tree nuts. Always read the labels before purchasing such products to prevent an allergic reaction.
  • While coconut is also a tree nut, it is usually safe for people with a tree nut allergy. In any case, consult an allergist before consuming coconut.

3. Milk allergy:

While milk is one of the most important foods for a child, it is also one of the most common allergens. Milk allergy is not the same as lactose intolerance.

A child is said to be allergic to milk when he or she has an allergic reaction to the proteins in milk. When the child does not have enough lactase, an enzyme that is needed to dissolve the lactose in milk, he or she is said to be lactose intolerant.

Milk allergy is common in children aged less than three years. While some kids outgrow the allergy before they reach the age of three, some continue to have it until 16 years or beyond.

Symptoms of milk allergy include:

  • Stomach upset
  • Hives
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Blood stools in younger children and babies
  • Anaphylaxis, although rare

Your allergist may perform the skin-prick test, wherein a drop or two of milk protein or any liquid containing the milk protein is placed on the forearm to check for sensitivity. A blood test may also be done to check for IgE antibodies.

These days, allergists are relying on a new blood test called the composite test that looks for the presence of specific milk proteins called casein, alpha-lactalbumin, and beta-lactalbumin, which can cause severe allergic reactions.

Prevention and treatment:

As with most food allergies, there is no cure for milk allergy in children. The child may eventually outgrow it or may continue to be allergic even in adulthood. The only way to prevent an allergic reaction is to avoid milk and dairy products.

  • Avoid ice creams, cakes, cookies, biscuits, beverages and other products that may contain dairy products.
  • Most chocolates also have milk and keeping a child away from them can be a challenge. Replace milk chocolates with dark chocolate and non-dairy chocolate goods and desserts.
  • Always read labels before buying a baked good, beverage or any other product that is likely to have milk. The good idea is to try and eat vegan products, which are free of dairy.

If the reaction is severe, a shot of epinephrine can help ease the symptoms and bring back the child to normalcy.

4. Soy allergy:

If your child is uncomfortable after consuming soy milk or any other soy product such as tofu, they are possibly allergic to soy. Most children tend to outgrow soy allergy by the time they are ten years old.

Symptoms of soy allergy include:

  • Itching in the mouth
  • Hives or rashes on the skin
  • Stuffy or a runny nose
  • Asthma or wheezing and congestion
  • Diarrhea and vomiting

In very rare cases, a soy allergy could lead to anaphylaxis. Avoid giving soy to young children and babies. If your kids have never had soy before, start by giving them small quantities of the foods containing soy. If there is an allergic reaction, take the child to an allergist.

A doctor may do a physical exam, a skin-prick test and also a blood test to check for soy protein antibodies. If a drop of soy milk on the forearm or back results in red spots in the area, it could mean that the child is allergic to soy. In some cases, the allergist may also try the oral food test, wherein the child has to eat small amounts of soy food products in a controlled environment.

Prevention and treatment:

If diagnosis confirms that your child indeed has allergic reaction to soy milk, make sure he or she keeps away from any foods that may contain the bean or its extracts. Soy extracts can be found in a variety of food products including baby food, supplement powders, and pills, canned broths and soups, processed foods such as meats, chips, and baked goods. To prevent an allergic reaction,

  • Avoid eating anything that contains even traces of soy.
  • Read the labels of food products you buy for the kids.
  • Consult your child’s doctor before giving him any vitamin or mineral supplements that may contain soy.
  • Soya bean oil is usually not an allergen and is safe to consume. But it is best to check with your allergist before you use it.
  • Soy allergy does not necessarily make the child allergic to peanuts or tree nuts.

Your allergist may prescribe antihistamines. In the case of anaphylaxis, he may recommend you to carry an auto-injector filled with epinephrine.

5. Wheat allergy:

An allergy to wheat can make the child’s life difficult, considering the number of food products that contain the ingredient. From bread and cakes to biscuits and cereals, everyday foods may contain wheat or gluten in some form and measure. If your child displays an allergic reaction after consuming something that has wheat, you may want to get him tested.

When the child has a wheat allergy, he or she is unable to digest a protein called gluten, which is found in wheat, rye, and barley. Gluten or wheat allergy symptoms in children are similar to symptoms of other food allergies, and include:

  • Hives or rash on the skin
  • Sneezing and headaches
  • Stuffy or a runny nose
  • Asthma
  • Stomach cramps and diarrhea
  • Anaphylaxis, although not very common

Prevention and treatment:

Wheat allergy can be triggered when the child consumes food containing the ingredient or comes into contact with items like Play-Doh, bath products or skin care products that contain gluten in some form. To prevent a reaction:

  • Purchase gluten-free snacks for the child. The best solution is to prepare meals at home, without using any flour.
  • Find gluten-free alternatives to foods like cakes and bread that the kids may like.
  • Tell your child what foods he or she must avoid, to prevent an allergic reaction. Teach them to ask – let them make it a habit of asking what a specific food contains – to stay safe when they are eating at school or a social event.

You can manage a wheat allergy with a controlled diet and use of antihistamines to alleviate the symptoms. As gluten allergy can trigger anaphylaxis, your child should also carry and know how to use an epinephrine auto-injector in case of a severe reaction to some food that they have.

6. Egg allergy:

Studies show that around two percent kids have an egg allergy, which is triggered when the body reacts to the protein in the egg white. Research also reveals that around 70% children who have an egg allergy outgrow it before they turn 16.

Symptoms of an egg allergy include:

  • Hives or rashes on the skin
  • Stomach ache
  • Respiratory problems
  • Anaphylaxis, in rare cases

An allergist may do a skin-prick test or a blood test to confirm the diagnosis. The skin-prick test involves putting a drop of egg protein and using a sterile needle or probe to let the liquid seep into the skin to confirm the allergy.

Prevention and treatment:

  • Avoid eating eggs to prevent a possible reaction.
  • Certain vaccines, such as the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, contain egg as an ingredient but are usually safe. In any case, inform the pediatrician about the allergy beforehand.
  • Some flu vaccines contain egg. Go for those which do not have an egg.
  • Baked goods may contain eggs, so read labels before you buy cakes, bread or cookies.
  • Whenever the children are out at school or a social event, tell them to avoid eating foods that contain eggs.

Mild symptoms such as nausea and stomach pain can be relieved with the help of antihistamines. However, the child will need a shot of epinephrine injection in case of severe respiratory problems or anaphylaxis.

7. Shellfish allergy:

Shellfish allergy affects around seven million Americans every year. That’s right! Eating crab, lobster or any other shellfish can be a bad idea for many kids. Note that shellfish allergy is not the same as a fish allergy. So, kids who are allergic to fish may not necessarily be allergic to shellfish and vice versa.

Symptoms of shellfish allergy include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Stomach cramps and indigestion
  • Hives
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Wheezing and constant coughing
  • Tightness of throat – may have trouble swallowing all of a sudden
  • Drop in pulse
  • Skin may turn pale blue
  • Dizziness and confusion

All kinds of shellfish, including crustaceans such as crabs, lobsters, and shrimps, can trigger an allergic reaction. However, some people with this allergy may be able to tolerate mollusks like oysters, scallops, clams and mussels.

Prevention and treatment:

People may remain allergic to shellfish for life, which means it is best to avoid eating them to prevent an allergic reaction.

8. Fish allergy:

Although it is not as common as other food allergies in kids, fish allergy can make the child highly uncomfortable. Fish allergy may not become apparent until the child reaches adulthood. A study further revealed that around 40% of people with fish allergy reported developing it after they became adults.

Symptoms of a fish allergy include:

  • Hives or rashes on the skin
  • Vomiting, nausea, diarrhea
  • Headaches
  • Asthma
  • Sneezing, stuffy or a runny nose
  • Anaphylaxis, although less common

Diagnosis through a skin-prick test may reveal the child’s allergy to a particular type of fish. A blood test may also be conducted. If these tests are not definitive, then the doctor may try the oral food challenge to know what’s causing the symptoms.

Prevention and diagnosis:

Until you are not sure which fish is causing the reaction, it is best not to give your child fish any variety of fish. Also,

  • Avoid shellfish as kids who are allergic to fish may also have a reaction to shellfish.
  • Check food labels for fish extracts in the product; fish oil is the most common ingredient used in medicines and supplements.
  • Avoid eating outside food – some restaurants may use a cheaper variety of fish in spite of their claims on the menu.
  • Your doctor may ask you not to eat a particular type of fish. However, it is best to be careful with other varieties too. Give them small quantities or avoid fish completely.

Your doctor may recommend the use of antihistamines in case of an allergic reaction. But to protect your child from something as severe as anaphylaxis, make sure that there is always a shot of epinephrine near your kid.

9. Sesame seeds allergy:

You think Sesame Street is fun for kids? Well, not this one!

The food allergies we have discussed so far are caused by the eight foods recognized as the top allergens in the US. While that is true, there is another food ingredient that can cause severe reactions in children – sesame seeds.

Sesame seeds are not common ingredients in American cuisine, which is perhaps why not many cases of sesame allergy are reported. However, in places such as Israel, where sesame seeds are a traditional ingredient, allergies are not uncommon. The allergic reactions to sesame seeds can be severe and cause anaphylaxis too.

Symptoms of sesame seed allergy include:

  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Low pulse rate
  • Constant coughing
  • Face may change color and look flushed
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Itching in the mouth

The allergist may consider a food challenge to confirm the diagnosis, starting with small quantities of food and increasing the amount gradually to read and understand the reactions.

Prevention and treatment:

If sesame is not one of the main ingredients in your cuisine, avoid using it at all. You may find alternatives or just keep the seeds out from your child’s food.

  • Avoid using other seeds until the allergist identifies the culprit.
  • Do not use sesame oil and make sure you inform the child’s caretakers about the allergy.
  • Tell the waiters in restaurants to avoid using sesame seeds (on burgers) or sesame oil in the food.

For anaphylaxis due to sesame seeds, a shot of epinephrine is a must. So, make sure your child carries a self-injecting epinephrine pen with him or her at all times

Some More Tips To Avoid An Allergic Reaction

The best way to keep your child safe is keeping them away from that allergenic food.

But that is easier said than done, especially if the ingredient is milk, which is there in favorites such as ice creams and chocolates. Here are a few tips that can help you deal with your child’s food allergies better.

  • Always carry emergency medicines in your bag. Keep one in your child’s bag and one in your car’s glove compartment. Make sure you use the medications before the expiry date.
  • If your child is highly allergic, make them wear medical identification for emergency responders and caregivers to know what medicines to give.
  • Teach the kid to read labels thoroughly.
  • Find alternatives that your child can enjoy. For example, if they are allergic to milk, find vegan options that are equally good. You can also replace ice cream with sorbet, which is dairy-free.
  • Don’t make allergens, such as peanuts and tree nuts, chocolates, milk treats and other foods, accessible to the child.
  • Avoid high-risk events like parties, where the child can help himself to food.
  • Most importantly, ask the doctor for an emergency plan in case of a reaction and let the child know about it.

Food allergies need not stop your child from enjoying good food. Living with food allergies is living consciously, which is a very healthy habit. It is all about making the right choices, not giving up on something. Your child may be too young to understand, but if you help them adopt this lifestyle and make it fun for them, they won’t mind not eating a few things to stay healthy and safe.

How do you help your kids with food allergies? Let us know about it here.

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