Kids Food Allergies 101
What Is a Food Allergy?
When the body reacts to a particular food product as a harmful substance, the immune system creates antibodies to fight the substance—triggering the allergy. As if your child’s body is protecting itself from an alien invasion, the next time he or she touches, eats, or smells that specific food product, his or her body will “protect” itself by producing histamine. Histamine can impact respiratory and cardiovascular systems, skin, and the gastrointestinal tract.
Recognizing a Food Allergy in Your Child
Allergic reactions vary from child to child. Some affect a single part of the body, while others are more severe and affect multiple parts. Reactions can happen within a few minutes or up to a few hours of your child making contact with a particular food. Four areas of the body that can be affected by an allergic reaction include:
- Cardiovascular system: fainting or lightheadedness
- Respiratory system: shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, sneezing, runny or stuffy nose
- Gastrointestinal tract: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal pain
- Skin: hives, eczema, swelling, itching, or redness
If your child shows any of these symptoms, call your pediatrician. If your child is having a severe reaction, such as his or her throat closing up, call 9-1-1. You should also keep Benadryl on hand, just in case your child has a reaction to new food.
Common Food Allergens
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, more than 90% of food allergies come from eight types of food, which are:
- Tree nuts (pecans, macadamia nuts, walnuts, cashews)
What to Do During an Allergic Reaction
A serious allergic reaction affecting multiple parts of your child’s body, or anaphylaxis, is sudden and potentially life threatening. It typically involves two or more of the body areas listed above and may also result in a sore throat and difficulty breathing. Here are three methods you can take when dealing with an allergic reaction:
- A bronchodilator, such as albuterol, may be recommended by a doctor to help counter the effects of an asthma attack.
- Antihistamines can be used to treat hives, a runny nose, or abdominal pain.
- Epinephrine is often used to treat anaphylaxis. Your child’s allergist will recommend that you keep two epinephrine injectors, commonly known as EpiPens, on hand at all times.
After administering the proper medication, call 9-1-1 immediately. During anaphylaxis, seconds matter.