A food allergy occurs when the immune system identifies a protein in a particular food as harmful to the body, then reacts to try to “fight off” the “harmful” protein. Between two and eight percent of American children have food allergies. The most common food allergies in infants and children are:
- Cow’s milk
- Eggs (especially egg whites)
- Peanuts (peanuts)
- Tree nuts (including almonds, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts and walnuts)
- Soya bean
In adults, milk, egg, and soy allergies are less common, while fish and shellfish allergies are more common. This can be explained because most children grow up allergic to milk, egg and soy, while young children do not eat too much fish or shellfish and therefore do not develop allergies or their allergies are unknown. Peanut allergy is common in adults and children because this allergy is rare. Only about 20 percent of children outgrow a nut allergy and about 9 percent outgrow a tree nut allergy.
If your baby has a food allergy, he or she may have skin symptoms such as itching, rash, or swelling; gastrointestinal symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea or vomiting; or respiratory symptoms such as difficulty breathing. An allergist can test your child for allergies with a blood test or a skin prick test. If he or she is diagnosed with a food allergy, you should read food labels carefully to determine if there are any traces of the allergen in the product you are trying to buy. Depending on the severity of the allergy, you may have to prevent your child from coming into contact with the allergen altogether and you may need to take epinephrine with you so you can treat him immediately if he has a severe reaction.