While we don’t really know why, food allergies are on the increase.  The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) estimate that around 1 in 20 children and 2 in 100 adults suffer from food allergies.

Fortunately many allergies are not severe and most children will grow out of their allergy early in life. However allergies to nuts, seeds and seafood are likely to be life-long.  And some food allergies can be severe, causing life-threatening symptoms.

Allergies in children can develop at any age, but most commonly occur in younger children (under 5 years of age).

High risk foods

The most common allergens in children are cow’s milk, eggs and peanuts and 90% of food allergies are to the following nine foods: cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds, soy, fish, shellfish and wheat. While allergies to other foods are much less common, almost any food can trigger an allergic reaction.

Symptoms of food allergies

The symptoms of food allergy can vary from mild to severe.  Mild to moderate symptoms include swelling of the face, lips and or eyes, hives or welts on the skin, stomach pain and vomiting.  Signs of a severe allergic reaction (known as anaphylaxis) include difficulties breathing, swelling of the tongue, swelling  or tightness in the throat, difficulties talking and/or a hoarse voice, wheezing, a persistent cough, dizziness and/or collapse and becoming pale and floppy (in young children).   If you suspect your child is having an allergic reaction to food, it’s essential to get urgent medical attention.

Management of food allergies

There is currently no cure for food allergies so strict avoidance of the food/foods in question is essential.  This means knowing what to look for on food labels and taking steps to avoid possible cross-contamination when preparing foods and eating away from home.   Children at risk of anaphylaxis also need to have an adrenaline autoinjector (Epi-Pen®) and an ASCIA Action Plan on them at all times.  Your doctor can help you complete the action plan.

Prevention

When it comes to prevention, there’s no evidence that avoiding potentially allergenic foods during pregnancy, breastfeeding or when starting solids will reduce the risk of allergies. In fact, it’s recommended that all infants, including those at high risk, be given allergenic foods (such as peanut butter, cooked egg, dairy and wheat) during their first year of life.  Solids should be introduced around 6 months and not before 4 months. There’s also some evidence that introducing potentially allergic foods while still breastfeeding might help to reduce the risk.

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