Protecting Kids from Food Allergy Reactions

At Sunrise Children’s Hospital, demonstrating our dedication to healing children by sharing what we know, is part of our mission. It’s just one of the things we take pride in when it comes to partnering with parents to provide amazing care for their kids.

A recent hot topic for new parents is food allergies, as it affects nearly 6 million kids (stats from the Food Allergy Research and Education site) in the United States. Food allergies can be extremely serious, potentially causing a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis.

As a result, some parents have avoided introducing certain foods to their children, but things are changing. Peanuts, for example, are the cause of the most severe type of food allergy, affecting about 2% of children in the US and growing. It was common “law,” until a few months ago, to avoid peanuts or products containing peanuts until age 3 or older. The idea, based on American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines released in 2000, was that feeding peanuts to children too early might increase the risk of severe or deadly reactions.

Now, parents are advised to do the complete opposite. By exposing babies to certain foods sooner, leading pediatric researchers suggest allergies can be prevented from developing or outgrown sooner.

Advice for Babies

The new guidelines, issued by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in early 2017, categorize recommendations into the following:

  • Category 1: Children believed to be most likely to develop a peanut allergy, infants who have severe asthma, egg allergy or both:
    • Parents can either introduce these children to peanut-containing food at 4 to 6 months or get a reference to an allergist who will give the child a skin prick test or a blood test to see whether the infant is allergic to peanuts. If the child is not allergic, parents should follow the recommendation of introducing peanut-containing foods at 4 to 6 months. However, if the infant is allergic, parents should refrain.
  • Category 2: Children with mild to moderate eczema; less likely to have an allergy:
    • These infants should be introduced to peanut-containing foods at about 6 months of age.
  • Category 3: Children with no eczema or food allergies and no family history of such:
    • These children can either be fed peanut-containing foods or not at any age, based purely on family and cultural preference.

Advice for Children and Teenagers

In a school setting, food allergies can be challenging for all involved. Special diets are especially difficult for younger children who need help identifying which food items might have been exposed to their allergen. Successful food management includes a partnership between parents, teachers, cafeteria staff, and all other school staff members involved in your child’s education. Teach kids to be advocates for their own safety and check in with the school to ensure their doctor’s plans are being maintained.

What causes food allergies?

The body’s immune system keeps itself healthy by fighting off infections and other dangers that can affect good health. When a food allergy occurs, the body’s immune system is overreacting to a food, or a substance in a food, triggering a protective response.

Eggs, milk, and peanuts are the most common causes of food allergies (more about common allergens on FARE's website) in children, along with wheat and soy. The most severe reactions are caused by peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish.

What are the symptoms of a food allergy?

Allergic reactions to foods can happen the first or 100th time the person is exposed and can happen within minutes to an hour after ingesting the food. Children experience symptoms differently. Milder symptoms include:

  • Skin problems such as hives, itchy skin rashes, and swelling
  • Breathing problems include sneezing, wheezing, and throat tightness
  • Stomach symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Circulation symptoms including pale skin, light-headedness, or loss of consciousness

If several areas of the body are affected, the reaction may be severe or even life-threatening. This type of allergic reaction, a combination of symptoms which causes difficulties in breathing, is called anaphylaxis and requires immediate medical attention.

Always Have a Plan

Most children "outgrow" their allergies, but reactions to peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish may be lifelong. Although there is no cure for food allergy, medications can treat most symptoms and scientists are working to find treatments to prevent life-threatening reactions.

In the event of anaphylaxis, call 9-1-1 immediately.

At Sunrise Children’s Hospital, we are here to help! With faster ER wait times for many commonly treated ailments in our new "Kangaroo Korner.” Our pediatric doctors and nurses are staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week and specialize in treating kids, from babies to teens.