When you start weaning your child, you need to be vigilant and aware of the signs of a food allergy, which develops when your child's immune system recognises a certain food as a threat. The immune system goes into overdrive and creates antibodies to fight off this perceived threat, and the release of these antibodies can cause your child to experience unpleasant symptoms. Allergic reactions can range in severity from mild discomfort to life-threatening, so it's vital you seek medical advice if you think your child has a food allergy.
Any food can cause an allergic reaction, but common foods that cause allergies include peanuts, dairy, tree nuts, shellfish, soy, eggs and wheat. Food allergies seem to be more common in children when at least one parent has an allergy of any type, such as hay fever, pet dander or food. Some children will grow out of food allergies, but peanut and tree nut allergies tend to be lifelong. Here's an overview of the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment approach for food allergies in children:
Common symptoms of a food allergy include a skin rash, swelling around the lips and eyes, gastric upset, a runny nose, a swollen throat and lips and wheezing. A severe allergic reaction can lead to anaphylaxis, which is characterised by breathing difficulties followed by loss of consciousness. Anaphylaxis can be life-threatening and is considered a medical emergency.
Diagnosis And Treatment Approach
Your GP is the first port of call if you think your child has a food allergy. They will take details of your child's symptoms and gather information about known allergies within your child's immediate family. Your GP will refer your child to an allergy clinic to confirm diagnosis and a paediatric dietician to ensure your child's nutrition is not compromised of they have to cut out a specific food group from their diet, such as dairy.
Allergy clinics carry out skin tests to confirm which foods your child is allergic to. The skin on your child's forearm is pricked and extracts of common food allergens are placed over the pricked skin to determine if your child's body reacts to them. A reaction causes wheals to form on the arm, and this confirms your child has an allergy.
If your child is accidently exposed to the food they are allergic to, antihistamines can be administered to ease their symptoms, but these should only be given under the guidance of your doctor. If wheezing is a normal post-exposure symptom for your child, they may be prescribed an inhaler to widen their respiratory passages and make breathing more comfortable.
Anaphylaxis is treated with an injection of epinephrine, which is basically prescription adrenaline, and this reduces swelling and improves breathing by relaxing the muscles in your child's lungs. Your child can have a severe allergic reaction to a food that's previously only caused a mild reaction, and for this reason, it's common practice for parents of young children with food allergies to be given an auto-injector syringe of epinephrine, which should be transported with your child at all times and administered of your child experiences breathing difficulties or loses consciousness after exposure to a food allergen.
Bulk billing can be applied to specialist services, including dietetic care and allergy testing, and your GP can provide you with further information on this. The symptoms of food allergies can be caused by other serious conditions, such as celiac disease, so don't delay having your child diagnosed.