Your child may experience some reactions to certain foods and although it could be an allergy, it could also be the less serious food intolerance.
What’s the difference?
An allergy affects the immune system and can be severe or even life-threatening, whereas a food intolerance is often limited to digestive issues. Both however should be addressed, and the culprit identified.
What are the most common allergies?
90% of food allergies in children are caused by nine foods. They are cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds, soy, fish, shellfish and wheat. Less common triggers are preservatives, additives, herbal medicines, fruit and vegetables have been described.
It should be noted that, though rare, almost any other food can also cause allergic reactions. Food allergy symptoms usually occur very soon after consuming the allergen. Food intolerance symptoms can also occur soon after consumption but sometimes take 12-24 hours to develop. Some of these symptoms are similar so if you suspect your child may have an allergy, you should pay a visit to a specialist to have your child diagnosed.
Symptoms of a food allergy
Mild to moderate symptoms typically affect the skin, the respiratory system and the gut.
- A flushed face, hives, a red and itchy rash around the mouth, tongue or eyes. This can spread across the entire body.
- Mild swelling, particularly of the lips, eyes and face.
- A runny or blocked nose, sneezing and watering eyes.
- Nausea and vomiting, tummy cramps and diarrhoea.
- A scratchy or itchy mouth and throat.
Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic response that requires urgent medical attention. The symptoms are:
- Wheezing or chest tightness, similar to a severe asthma attack.
- Swelling of the tongue and throat, restricting the airways. This can cause noisy breathing (especially on breathing in), a cough or a change in voice.
- A sudden drop in blood pressure (called hypotension) leading to shock.
- Dizziness, confusion, collapse, loss of consciousness and sometimes coma.
Symptoms of food intolerance
- Reflux – an effortless vomiting
- Poor growth
- Swelling in the small bowel
- Constipation and/or diarrhoea
- Raising knees to chest with tummy pain
- Frequent distress and crying
Can food allergies be prevented?
As it stands, current research indicates that exclusively breastfeeding during the first four to six months or longer appears to protect against the development of allergies, and that starting solids too early may increase the risk of developing allergies in early childhood. Research also indicates that if a breastfeeding baby has been shown to be allergic to a particular food, a breastfeeding mother should avoid eating that food. Research suggests that exposing an infant or child to cigarette smoke can increase the risk of developing allergies in early childhood.
What should you do if you suspect an allergy?
Immediate allergies to food are usually quite easy to spot because of how quickly they happen after the food is eaten.
- If you think that your child has had an immediate reaction, it is best to avoid the food until you have seen a doctor.
- If you suspect that something in your child’s diet is causing more delayed symptoms such as eczema or reflux then it can be helpful to keep a food diary to see if the relationship between having the food in the diet (or your diet if you are breast feeding) and the symptoms is consistent.
- Try a rotation diet where the suspected food is completely taken out of the diet. If the food is the cause of the symptoms then they should improve when the food is withdrawn. This exclusion period should be followed by reintroduction of the food to ensure than any improvement really was due to the food being removed.
- Alternatively, you may seek for the advice of a homeopath. Studies have shown that the success rate can be 86% and above in relieving all allergy symptoms by re-establishing the body’s immune system. At the same time it decreases the reactions to the substances that trigger the allergic reaction.
- You can also discuss with your specialist about carrying out tests to determine which foods should be kept at bay.
Sussing out your child's allergies or intolerances, if any, can make a lot of difference to his or her health and wellbeing. So if you suspect a case of either of the two, try and get to the bottom of it as soon as possible.