In a recent survey conducted in 2011 over 38,000 children younger than 18 were polled to determine their food allergies. It was found that over 8% of children polled and studied, most are allergic to one or more foods. Accord to Susan Schuval a pediatric allergist at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New York, “…there’s a very high, and higher than we thought, prevalence of food allergy in the U.S, ” Susan continues, “We see this in our clinic, tons and tons of food allergies.”
The most common allergies treated included peanuts milk and shellfish allergies. Tree nuts, plus eggs, fin fish, strawberries, and wheat plus soy are also foods that cause allergic reactions in children.”
Symptoms of Allergic Reactions
There are situations where food allergies fade as children grow, yet those children who do not “lose” their allergic reactions can experience deadly reactions. Studies show 40% of children with allergies to certain foods experience traumatic symptoms. Symptoms can comprise winded breathing and anaphylaxis or difficulty breathing and a sudden drop in blood pressure.
Additional symptoms or reactions due to food allergies include hives and eczema to asthma, vomiting and anaphylaxis or a life threatening reaction in the body. Anaphylaxis causes the body’s major systems to shut down rapidly. The Journal of Pediatrics reported in 2010 that over 39% of children with food allergies do have histories of very severe reactions that include anaphylaxis.
Children between three and five have the highest percentage of food allergies, but teenagers experience life-threatening allergies more often. This may because of the propensity of teens to eat what they want without considering the side effects.
Psychological side effects of food allergies should also be considered. Children, who cannot eat peanut butter and are relegated to the nut-free foods at school, often feel like outcasts. In addition the fear of having an allergic reaction when eating out with friends and family can have an effect on your entire life.
When determining what foods are allergy producing, parents it is now being suggested that parents should consider introducing allergenic foods like peanut butter, fish and eggs to babies between four and six months. It is interesting to note that early introduction can actually prevent allergies in later childhood. This recommendation comes from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. Keep in contact with your pediatrician when considering introducing different foods to your baby.
More and more studies are finding that if foods are introduced at an early age, allergies can be prevented. The first studies concerning these controversial ideas included allowing some children to eat highly allergenic foods early and others delaying consumption. The results are not yet in, but one theory states that if babies are not exposed early enough to foods, their immune system will regard these foods as foreign substances later in childhood. According to studies in Australia, pediatricians feel that is critical to start introducing solids of every type to babies around four to six months.
In 2008, a study of Jewish children in the UK and children in Israel compared peanut allergies. More than 5,000 children in each country were compared. The children in the UK had peanut allergies more than 10 times higher than those in Israel. The reason? It is proposed that the infants in Israel were given snacks with peanuts before six months of age. The babies in the UK were not fed peanut products until they were older than one. Early peanut introduction, however, is a very controversial idea.
Another interesting and possible explanation for the increase in allergies over the years is hygiene. Children today do not have the same exposure to germs as in past generations. This does affect the development of the immune system. It has often been proven that children who occasionally run barefoot outside do tend to have healthier immune systems and those exposed to simple germs develop higher immunities against later diseases.
Observations and Opinions
There are increasing numbers of studies that are highly critical of simple observational studies. “The evidence that has come up is of great interest, but it’s all either anecdotal or epidemiological and not the intervention studies that are going on right now that will lead to answers in the next three years, ” Robert Wood, Director of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Dr. Wood’s emphasis to parents is that they really do not need to introduce traditional allergic food at an early age. Children at a very tender age of four to six months are not able to let their parents know that they are not feeling well or that a food is causing them distress. It is stressed that parents know their own children and should act logically and with caution.
Food Allergy Treatments
Regardless of all the theories about food allergies, when your child is suffering you need to know what to do. Pediatricians still recommend dietary avoidance of nuts, eggs, fish and certain milk products. They do recommend that immediate treatment of anaphylactic reactions and other symptoms be handled promptly.
Dietary avoidance has been the primary treatment of food allergies in children for centuries. Once a food is identified as a sensitivity issue, this food is removed from the diet. Parents need to read lengthy lists of ingredients on packaged food labels before feeding that food to their child. Continue to make sure there are no peanuts, eggs or fish in foods.
If your child suffers an anaphylactic reaction to a food, you might want to be prepared to visit the emergency room. Ensure that your child has a medical alert bracelet or necklace stating what foods they are allergic to. This will help schools prevent feeding these foods to an allergic child. Anaphylaxis is a very extreme allergic reaction to foods, insect stings or even drugs and causes rapid chemical changes in the body. Help the child who is suffering to sit in an upright position to aid with breathing. If necessary you may need to resuscitate them by using your CPR training.
There are medications that can relieve some of the symptoms of food allergies. If you find that your child just ate something and they are experiencing hives, sneezing and a runny nose you might want to administer antihistamines. Bronchodilators may relieve the symptoms of an asthma attack. Do know that antihistamines will not prevent allergic reactions. They are only available to help with the symptoms.
The bottom line: go slowly when introducing new foods to infants and toddlers. Watch for reactions, hives, rashes or breathing difficulties. If you find that you child cannot tolerate certain foods, take that food out of their diet. To keep your child safe, you will want to have medication on hand that can combat the symptoms.