Imagine this: You're enjoying a favorite snack with your son when suddenly he begins to cough and gasp for air. He's not choking, but you know something is seriously wrong. Does your child have a food allergy? Do you know what to do?
According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the prevalence of food allergies among those under age 18 is somewhere between 1 and 10 percent. Applying this figure to the U.S. Census July 2014 estimates, there may be three to seven million children with food allergies in the country.
What signs should you be on the lookout for? We checked in with pediatric specialist Denis Diaz, MD of Florida Hospital Medical Group to learn more.
Food Allergy Warning Signs
“Skin changes such as flushing, hives, and swelling; vomiting or diarrhea; respiratory tract problems such as nasal congestion, excessive mucus, airway swelling, difficulty breathing, or wheezing; and cardiovascular signs such as abnormal heart rhythms or abnormally decreased blood pressure all may indicate an allergy,” Dr. Diaz says.
Food allergies are often confused with food intolerances. A food allergy causes an immune system reaction while an intolerance does not. Though any food can cause an allergy, the most common culprits are cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, soy, wheat, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish.
“Cow’s milk allergy is more prevalent in boys than girls and comprises 10 to 19 percent of food-induced anaphylaxis cases in children,” Dr. Diaz explains. “Soy milk is not a solution for a cow’s milk allergy because those with a cow’s milk allergy also can react to soy products. Five to 15 percent of infants with a milk allergy, for example, will have a soy milk allergy too.”
The good news, he says, is that “most children outgrow milk and egg allergies, with about half of those affected doing so by school age. In contrast, most children (up to 90 percent) with peanut, tree nut, or seafood allergy retain their allergy for life.”
Anaphylaxis is a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction with a rapid onset (within minutes to hours) and involvement of the skin and/or mucus membranes. Anaphylaxis also affects the respiratory system (dyspnea, wheezing, bronchospasm, stridor) or the circulatory system with a drop in blood pressure or other symptoms, in addition to the skin or mucus membrane signs.
Peanut Allergy Concerns
Peanut allergies are of growing concern to parents as they can be life-threatening to young children. A new blood test is in development that aims to be able to discover peanut allergies earlier and less expensively than the system currently in place.
The researchers behind the Mast Activation Test believe it will eliminate false-positives that can sometimes occur when a child is tested orally for a peanut allergy.
If you or your child have a nut allergy, your food packages should be read carefully. Very often, processed foods are made in plants where other allergens (peanuts, tree nuts) are processed and any small amounts ingested due to cross-contamination may cause a dangerous allergic reaction or anaphylaxis.
Epinephrine is a peptide hormone used to treat anaphylaxis in an emergency. Epinephrine pens are available by prescription and the medication is usually administered via an auto-injector, a medical device used for injecting a measured dose or doses of the medication. If you have a severe food allergy, you may need to carry a portable epinephrine shot (Adrenaclick, Auvi-Q, EpiPen) for emergency self-treatment. Memorize the directions for use long before an allergic reaction occurs and be sure to ask your health care provider if you have additional questions.
If your child has not been screened for allergies or you suspect they have developed new ones, see a pediatrician as soon as possible. The best way to prevent an allergy emergency is with prevention and preparation. We’re here to help. To find a local care provider, visit FHWatermanKids.com.