Avoidance can be life-saving when dealing with food allergies. Presented by Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital.
Food allergies affect approximately one in every 13 children. And while some children outgrow their reactions, not all do. Because of the severity of certain allergies, such as tree nuts and shellfish, diagnosis and education surrounding risk and response to reactions can be a major factor in saving lives.
Northwestern Medicine Allergists Anne Marie Ditto, MD, and Anju Peters, MD, and C. Allan Pratt, MD, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Anne & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital, answer a few frequently asked questions about allergies.
1. What are the most common food allergies?
For children, milk, egg, peanut and tree nut allergies are the most common. Shellfish, peanut and tree nut allergies affect adults the most.
2. How can food allergies vary by age and gender?
Infants tend to have more delayed signs of allergy, such as fussiness, cramping and eczema. You may also find blood in their diaper. Also, they often do not have the allergies we think of typically. Older children and adults tend to have more anaphylactic-type reactions, but there is a big overlap between ages and reactions.
Some food allergies are more commonly outgrown as children get older. However, there is a trend for kids to remain allergic to those foods, such as eggs and milk, for longer periods of time. The average age of losing the allergy has nearly doubled over the last 10 years.
Generally, food allergies are more prevalent in children than adults, affecting eight percent of children and three to four percent of adults. They are also more common in boys during childhood.
3. What are some signs a child might have an allergy?
Problems swallowing, abdominal pain, cramping, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea can indicate a food allergy. A food allergy often times shares the symptoms of food poisoning, except more persistent or recurrent. Hives, redness and swelling are also common symptoms of an allergic reaction.
4. How can children benefit from allergy testing?
Allergy testing, including skin testing, is helpful the older one gets. But this is a guide for what to eliminate, and cannot definitively tell if somebody has a food allergy.
Children may outgrow certain food allergies and certain diagnostic tests can predict when it may be safe to introduce the food to the child. This would typically be done in an allergist’s office.
5. What steps should you take if your child has an allergy?
For now, the only treatment is avoidance. There is work being done on oral immunotherapy and epicutaneous immunotherapy (which induces desensitization in allergic patients by delivering allergens through the skin), but these are still in the research stages.
Also effective in identifying food allergens is an elimination diet. According to Edye Wagner, MBA, RD, LDN, CDE, System Manager, Clinical Nutrition Services, Lake Forest Hospital, “An elimination diet can be overwhelming, taking in adequate nutrition while eliminating major food groups. It’s best to work with a registered dietitian to develop an effective plan.”
Strict dietary avoidance is the best practice for families with food allergies. Teaching siblings, friends and adults in your child’s life about their food allergy and emergency medication, such as an Epipen, can help prevent and address accidental exposure. Education on avoidance can be life-saving.
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