There was a time when food allergies were a rare occurrence in a child. Parents would feed their kids peanut butter sandwiches with a big glass of milk to wash it down and never think twice about what their children were eating. Nowadays, however, food allergies have increased 18% in the past decade with 4 out of 100 children being diagnosed. So, why the increase in numbers and what can a concerned parent do to make sure their child is healthy? Let’s get the facts.
Why the Increase in Allergies?
The short answer is no one knows for sure. While there is no conclusive evidence, many feel than the increase in food allergies is due to the chemicals and pesticides used in the growing and manufacturing of food. Others feel that the increase in numbers is more a result in better diagnosing of the problem.
There seem to be eight different foods that are the main culprit for food allergies. These are peanuts, tree nuts, cow’s milk, soy, wheat, eggs, fish and shellfish. Of these foods, the most common food allergen is cow’s milk. While not as prevalent as milk allergies, peanut allergies can be particularly dangerous sometimes resulting in a very dramatic and sometimes fatal allergic response. Peanut allergies are also likely to be a lifelong affliction.
Symptoms to Watch For
Allergy symptoms can range from mild to severe. The signs to watch for include:
Congestion or runny nose
Hives or itchy skin
Difficulty breathing or wheezing
Obviously, if your child shows signs of any respiratory distress contact emergency help immediately. If, however, your child is exhibiting some of the more mild symptoms, start to keep track of what your child is eating and if the symptoms are occurring after any particular food. Is this reaction consistent? If so, make an appointment with your pediatrician for further testing.
Food allergy vs. Food Intolerance
It’s important to understand the difference. An allergic reaction is a misfiring of the immune system in which it perceives something as harmful and then produces antibodies to fight it. This fight between the antibodies and the offending food then result in allergy symptoms. Food intolerances don’t involve the immune system and instead are more a function of the digestive system. For example, the most common food intolerance is lactose. This occurs because the body lacks an adequate supply of enzymes to break down the lactose in dairy products resulting in symptoms such as bloating, gassiness and sometimes diarrhea. A true milk allergy would instead result possibly in hives breaking out on the body, tightness in the chest, or swelling of the tongue or lips.
Experts agree that to decrease the likelihood of developing a food allergy, it’s important to hold off foods like cow’s milk and peanuts until your child is at least 1 year of age. While, thankfully, many children will outgrow food allergies by the time they are three years old, there are some who progress into other allergy related symptoms, such as dermatitis, eczema, allergic rhinitis and asthma.