Dietitians Dish: Food allergies very common
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that nearly 15 million Americans have at least one food allergy.
While food allergies may present a problem for adults, they are of even greater concern for children.
The most common sources of food-related allergic reactions in children are eggs, milk, peanuts, walnuts and other tree nuts, soy, fish, shellfish and wheat. These allergies often develop in infancy or early childhood.
While children typically outgrow allergies to eggs, milk and soy, they generally do not outgrow allergies to peanuts, other tree nuts and shellfish.
Food allergies that develop later in life are typically not outgrown.
Food allergies occur when the body's immune system reacts to specific proteins in a certain food that the body sees as harmful. Symptoms can be mild such as a runny nose or itching or swelling of the mouth, to more severe symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, hives, eczema, a drop in blood pressure and tightening of the throat.
The most common food allergy in infants and young children is cow's milk. Symptoms may develop within days, weeks or months after birth and include abdominal pain, hives and eczema. Milk allergies are most often related to the presence of immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies to cow's milk in the blood.
A person who does not have a milk allergy will not have IgE antibodies to cow's milk. Some cow's milk allergies may be caused by another immune response unrelated to IgE antibodies.
Abdominal pain after drinking cow's milk may not necessarily indicate a milk allergy; it is also a symptom of lactose intolerance.
An intolerance, which is different from an allergy, occurs when the body is not able to digest certain substances, such as lactose, the natural sugar present in milk.
A physician can determine if the symptoms are caused by a milk allergy or intolerance.
If you know that you or your child has a food allergy, the only way to prevent an allergic reaction is to avoid the food entirely.
While there is no way to prevent a food allergy, there are ways to reduce the risk of developing one. If a parent or sibling has a food allergy, extra care should be taken especially when introducing solid food into an infant's diet. Waiting until your child is at least 4 to 6 months of age to introduce solid food can also reduce the risk of developing food allergies.
Exclusively breast-feeding infants for at least four months decreases the incidence of cow's milk allergies when compared to infants who are fed cow's milk-based formulas during the first four months of life.
Soy-based formulas have not been proven as an effective way to prevent allergy development.
If you suspect that your child has a food allergy, it is important to be aware of the symptoms and contact your pediatrician immediately.
If it is confirmed that your child has a food allergy, avoiding the food and anything containing that food are the best ways to prevent reactions.
Lynda Knutson is a Texas A&M University-Kingsville dietetic intern.