Childhood food allergies occur when your kid’s immune system responds to common substances that they consider as harmful or allergens. In other words, your child’s immune system wrongly recognizes a harmless substance as foreign, and tries to eradicate it by releasing protective chemicals like histamine, resulting in extreme symptoms or reactions. Food allergies are commonly noticed in many Indian children, especially when it comes to foods like tree nuts, eggs, cow’s milk, wheat, shellfish and soy. So, to know more and be on your guard, read on.
Types of food allergies with symptoms
- Milk allergy - This is one of the common food allergies children face when they are allergic to cow’s milk. The allergy is triggered through the consumption of cow’s milk and causes symptoms that include stomach cramps, bloating, flatulence, diarrhoea, vomiting, etc.
- Peanut or groundnut allergy - This allergy can be life-threatening as the allergens cannot be destroyed by cooking or heating the food. Symptoms include a runny nose, skin reactions, redness and swelling around the mouth or throat, and shortness of breath.
- Egg allergy- It is triggered by egg proteins like ovomucoid, ovalbumin and conalbumin, and at times, it can cause anaphylaxis. Cooking can destroy some allergens but some kids might still react to cooked eggs. Symptoms include red patches or rashes all over, diarrhoea, wheezing, vomiting etc.
- Fish allergy: Fish protein can cause severe reactions, including anaphylaxis. Common symptoms are skin irritations, breathing difficulties, drop in blood pressure, vomiting and diarrhoea.
- Wheat allergy- Commonly noticed in babies, this allergy usually peaks at around the age of 3 years, and it is sometimes mistaken as celiac disease. Celiac disease is a digestive disorder that involves reaction to gluten. Symptoms to this allergy include watery diarrhoea, excessive burping, stomach ache etc.
- Soybean allergy - It is one of the common food allergies, and can sometimes go away by the age of 2 years. Symptoms include swelling in different body parts, flatulence, and bloating.
Below are some common childhood food allergy myths:-
Myth 1: Food allergy is not a serious issue and it is for lifetime.
Fact: Food allergy is a serious problem and can cause multiple symptoms like vomiting, stomach ache, fainting, dizziness etc. It can be life-threatening, if allergic reactions involve several body parts, and might also result in anaphylaxis. Parents should hence be vigilant about what their children eat and react to. Allergies might not last for a lifetime, as some allergic reactions disappear as the child grows up.
Myth 2: Food allergy can be detected via skin and blood test.
Fact: This is not true in all cases, as some kids have measurable IgE antibodies for a specific food allergen, but don’t show any symptom. Positive skin prick and blood tests are not always accurate. Around 50 to 60% of children are considered “false positive”, which means that they test positive, even if they are not allergic to that food. In this case, it is advisable to go for an oral food challenge, after consulting a doctor.
Myth 3: Banning “big 8” is enough.
Fact: Food allergies can be fatal, and restricting only the common food allergens like milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish, is not advisable. This is because all these foods are highly nutritious and can ensure the holistic growth and development of your child. Your child’s exact allergy should be diagnosed, before deciding his or her diet.
Myth 4: Eating a small piece won’t hurt.
Fact: Eating even a bit of an allergenic food can cause serious reactions and trigger the immune response of the body. It is imperative to remove potential food allergens from your child’s diet to keep him safe. Avoid the cross-contact of food allergens and safe food as well, so that there is no accidental transfer of allergies.
Myth 5: Each allergic reaction will get worse with time.
Fact: Food allergic reactions can vary from mild and moderate to severe, and it depends on how your child’s body responds to specific allergens. And it doesn’t have to get worse over time. One should however be prepared with emergency medications at all times.
Myth 6: Food allergies and food intolerances are the same.
Fact: Food allergies are “IgE mediated”, unlike food intolerances, which means, your immune system produces immunoglobulin E (IgE), which is an antibody that detects and fights any food allergen by releasing histamine and other chemicals that trigger allergic reactions. On the other hand, food intolerance does not involve any immune response. It only causes discomfort but is not life-threatening.
Food allergy should be taken seriously as 90% of the allergic reactions occur due to protein-based foods. It is best to get your child tested thoroughly in case he shows an allergic reaction to any food item. It is also a good idea to introduce new food items one by one to a baby (after 6 months of age), and wait for any allergic reaction.