The 8 High-Risk Foods That Trigger Allergic ReactionsBy Denise Bell, MD – Virtua Pediatrician
Food allergies affect a whopping 1 in 13 children—with potentially deadly effects. It’s more important than ever to learn how you can help prevent and treat allergic reactions. Here’s what you need to know to ensure your child’s safety—and the safety of other kids.
What is an allergy?
When a person has a food allergy, their immune system produces antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE) that help protect the body. These antibodies cause cells in the body to release histamine into the bloodstream to attack the allergen. Histamine is the chemical that causes typical allergic reactions—affecting a person's eyes, nose, throat, lungs, skin, or gastrointestinal tract.
There are 8 “high-risk” foods that cause most allergic reactions:
- Cow’s milk
- Tree nuts
Reactions to these foods usually occur within 30 minutes of exposure, although symptoms could show up several hours later.
Symptoms range from mild to severe and include:
- Red, itchy skin
- Anaphylaxis (characterized by tightness in the throat and chest and tingling in the hands, feet, lips, and scalp)
How do I know if my child has an allergy?
Talk to your pediatrician about food allergies. Pediatricians usually tell moms to introduce ONE food at a time every 3 to 5 days between the ages of 4 and 6 months. If your child has an allergic reaction, you’ll know exactly what food caused it.
Children with eczema or a strong family history of food allergies should NOT be introduced to high-risk foods without consulting your pediatrician or an allergist.
Many foods can cause non-allergic intolerances or sensitivities. These foods include milk, caffeine and sulfites (a preservative added to many processed foods). For example, celiac disease is a non-allergic sensitivity to the gluten protein in wheat, barley and rye.
If your child experiences food-related symptoms that indicate allergy or intolerance, consult your pediatrician to find out if you child should have skin testing or blood work to ensure proper diagnosis.
What can I do for my child if he/she is having an allergic reaction?
Mild allergic reactions can be treated with an antihistamine. Severe reactions, including anaphylaxis, can only be treated with injected epinephrine.
Epinephrine is a naturally produced hormone that relaxes the muscles in the airways and tightens blood vessels. It’s recommended that children with severe allergies have access to automatic injectable epinephrine at all times. Parents also should have a food allergy plan from their child's doctor that can be shared at school and parties.
How do you prevent allergic reactions?
The key to prevention is simple: avoid trigger foods. Even trace amounts can cause a reaction in some cases, so it’s important to check ingredients and ask how a food has been prepared when appropriate. Seek medical attention right away if your child is inadvertently exposed.
If your child is allergic to foods like milk, eggs, wheat and soy, he or she will likely outgrow the allergy before reaching school age. However, allergies to nuts, tree nuts, and shellfish will likely require lifelong management and avoidance. New treatments such as food desensitization may be possible for some patients who would otherwise have a lifelong allergy.
Updated June 14, 2016