Food allergies in children are not as common as people might think, affecting about 5 percent of children. These allergies have become measurably more common, though, and some researchers believe that the occurrence of food allergies in children will continue to increase in the near future. Most food allergies in children are caused by eight foods: milk, eggs, fish, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, soy and wheat. Food allergies often disappear with age.
Allergic reactions vary in seriousness, but they are all triggered by the immune system. An allergic reaction to food is usually seen within minutes to an hour after the body comes into contact with the food. Symptoms can include itching around the mouth or in the throat, hives, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. They also might include difficulty breathing and swallowing, a sudden drop in blood pressure, abdominal pain and even death. Children who have asthma or atopic dermatitis are more likely to have food allergies.
Parents who believe that their child is experiencing a food allergy should carefully monitor their child and seek medical attention if the child has difficulty swallowing and breathing. Doctors can help properly identify and diagnose the allergy and its severity. Parents of children with severe food allergies might need to keep certain medical treatments on-hand at all times.
It is unknown why food allergies in children have been rising. Food allergies, especially peanut allergies, tend to be hereditary. Some doctors and researchers believe that food allergies are not necessarily more common, but the increased awareness about food allergies is causing more people to report and seek treatment for the condition. Others believe a change in diet, including less consumption of animal fats and a decrease in vitamin D intake, could contribute to the increased number of food allergies in children. It is also believed that children might be growing up in environments that are too "germ-free," leaving their bodies to form fewer antibodies that could protect against food allergies.
Children are considered to be at risk of developing a food allergy if someone in their immediate family has a food allergy or other allergic disorder. Parents can help prevent food allergies in children by breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of the child's life. While breastfeeding, the mother might want to avoid allergenic foods, especially peanuts and tree nuts. Children should not be fed milk or dairy products before their first birthday. Also, parents should wait until a child is 2 years old to introduce him or her to egg whites, and children should not eat peanuts, tree nuts or fish until age 3.