Food Allergies In Children: Symptoms, Foods To Avoid And Safety Measures

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One in 13 children in the US is said to have food allergies. It has been observed that the cases of food allergies in children have been increasing but the reason for the rise is not known.

A food allergy is the immune system’s negative response to a protein, which is otherwise harmless. The proteins or allergens can trigger an allergic reaction. When the immune system sees the food as a threat, it triggers a response that can result in swelling, hives, rashes on the skin, itching, etc.

MomJunction tells you about various types of food allergies, their symptoms, prevention and treatment. First, let’s understand the difference between food allergy and food intolerance.

Food Allergy Or Food Intolerance?

Food allergies and intolerances, are they one and the same? No. Food intolerance is a condition where the body has a chemical reaction to the food you eat. It is much more prevalent than food allergy and is not triggered by the immune system. People may not always be intolerant to a particular food. They can develop it because of an enzyme defect in the body, or side effects of medication, or irritable bowel syndrome.

Foods That Can Trigger A Reaction

Food allergies are specific in the sense that your child may be allergic to a particular food or category of foods having a type of protein that the immune system sees as a threat. While any food can cause an allergic reaction, the foods mentioned below are the most common allergens. According to the rules of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), manufacturers are required to mention the presence of these foods, on the labels.

  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts
  • Milk
  • Soy
  • Wheat
  • Egg
  • Shellfish
  • Fish
  • Sesame seeds

Together, these nine foods are responsible for over 90% of food allergies in people.

Common Symptoms Of Food Allergy

  • Runny nose
  • Itchy skin, puffiness or swelling of the skin, lips, and face
  • Breathlessness and wheezing
  • Tightening of the throat, a choking feeling
  • Digestive problems such as diarrhea, nausea, stomach cramps and vomiting
  • Hives breaking out on the skin
  • Dizziness and confusion

Although not common, anaphylaxis is one of the more serious effects of food allergy.

9 Types Of Food Allergies In Children

Food allergies can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender and ethnicity. Read on to learn about specific food allergies a child might have.

1. Peanut allergy

Peanuts are the most common allergens that lead to reactions ranging from mild to fatal. Around 0.6% of children in the US have a peanut allergy. Peanut allergy is considered one of the most dangerous because it can result in a condition called anaphylaxis, which can be life-threatening.

A person who is allergic and highly sensitive to peanuts may get affected even by peanut dust or traces of the peanut protein. Let’s know the symptoms that indicate the allergy.

2. Tree nut allergy

Tree nuts are those that grow on trees, and unlike legumes, contain a single seed in each shell. Children allergic to tree nuts should not be eating nuts such as almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashew nuts and Brazil nuts, among others. Like peanut allergy, tree nut allergy can also lead to anaphylaxis.

If you find any of these symptoms in your child after they eat a tree nut laden food, then take them to the nearest hospital or call emergency medical care for the antidote. Also consult an allergist as soon as possible.

While coconut is also a tree nut, it is usually safe for people with a tree nut allergy. In any case, consult an allergist before consuming coconut.

[Read: Zinc Rich Foods For Kids]

3. Milk allergy

While milk is one of the most important foods for a child, it is also one of the most common allergens. Milk allergy is not the same as lactose intolerance.

A child is said to be allergic to milk when he or she has an allergic reaction to the proteins in milk. Whereas, when the child does not have enough lactase, an enzyme that is needed to dissolve the lactose in milk, he or she is said to be lactose intolerant.

Milk allergy is common in children aged less than three years. While some children outgrow the allergy before they reach the age of three, some continue to have it until 16 years or beyond.

Your allergist may perform the skin-prick test, wherein a drop or two of milk protein or any liquid containing the milk protein is placed on the forearm to check for sensitivity.

Allergists have been trying a new blood test called the composite test that looks for the presence of specific milk proteins called casein, alpha-lactalbumin, and beta-lactalbumin, which can cause severe allergic reactions.

4. Soy allergy

If your child is uncomfortable after consuming soy milk or any other soy products such as tofu, they are possibly allergic to soy. Most children tend to outgrow soy allergy by the time they are ten years old.

In very rare cases, a soy allergy could lead to anaphylaxis. Avoid giving soy to young children and babies. If your kids have never had soy before, start by giving them small quantities of foods containing soy. If there is an allergic reaction, take the child to an allergist.

A doctor may do a physical examination, a skin-prick test and a blood test to check for soy protein antibodies. If a drop of soy milk on the forearm or back results in red spots in the area, it could mean that the child is allergic to soy. In some cases, the allergist may also try the oral food test, wherein the child has to eat small amounts of soy food products in a controlled environment.

5. Wheat allergy

When the child has a wheat allergy, he or she is unable to digest a protein called gluten, which is found in wheat, rye, and barley. From bread and cakes to biscuits and cereals, everyday foods may contain wheat or gluten in some form and measure. If your child displays an allergic reaction after consuming something that has wheat, you may want to get them tested.

6. Egg allergy

Studies show that around two percent of kids have an egg allergy, which is triggered when the body reacts to the protein in the egg white. Research also reveals that around 70% of children who have an egg allergy outgrow it before they turn 16.

An allergist may do a skin-prick test or a blood test to confirm the diagnosis. The skin-prick test involves putting a drop of egg protein and using a sterile needle or probe to let liquid seep into the skin to confirm the allergy.

[Read: Benefits Of Eating Eggs For Kids]

7. Shellfish allergy

Shellfish allergy affects around seven million Americans every year. Eating crab, lobster or any other shellfish can result in this allergy. Note that shellfish allergy is not the same as fish allergy. So, children allergic to fish may not necessarily be allergic to shellfish and vice versa.

All kinds of shellfish, including crustaceans such as crabs, lobsters, and shrimps, can trigger an allergic reaction. However, some people with this allergy may be able to tolerate mollusks like oysters, scallops, clams and mussels.

8. Fish allergy

Although it is not as common as other food allergies in children, fish allergy can make the child highly uncomfortable. The allergy may not become apparent until the child reaches adulthood. A study found that around 40% of people with fish allergy reported developing it after they became adults.

Diagnosis through a skin-prick test may reveal the child’s allergy to a particular type of fish. A blood test may also be conducted. If these tests are not definitive, then the doctor may try the oral food challenge to know what’s causing the symptoms.

[Read: Iron-Rich Foods For Your Kids]

9. Sesame seeds allergy

Sesame seeds are not common ingredients in American cuisine, which is perhaps why not many cases of sesame allergy are reported. However, in places where sesame seeds are a traditional ingredient, allergies are not uncommon. The allergic reactions to sesame seeds can be severe and cause anaphylaxis too.

The allergist may consider a food challenge to confirm the diagnosis, starting with small quantities of food and increasing the amount gradually to read and understand the reactions.

Safety Measures To Take If Your Child Has Food Allergy

The best way to keep your child safe is to keep them away from that allergenic food. In the case of allergic reaction, the doctor may prescribe antihistamines. However, if the allergy is severe or results in anaphylaxis, they may prescribe epinephrine injection.

You may take the below measures to prevent frequent food reactions in the child:

  • Although peanuts are not tree nuts, people with a tree nut allergy may also be allergic to them. Likewise, around 25 to 40% of people with peanut allergy may also have a reaction to tree nuts as well. Same is the case with fish and shellfish. Therefore, lookout for this cross-reactivity.
  • If your child is going to a party, tell the host about their allergy. Also, make it a habit for them to ask about the ingredients of the food if offered by a friend or acquaintance.
  • Most chocolates also have milk and keeping a child away from them can be a challenge. Replace milk chocolates with dark chocolate and non-dairy chocolate goods and desserts.
  • Always read labels before buying any foods, beverages or any other food product. Teach the child to read labels thoroughly.
  • Certain vaccines, such as the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, contain egg as an ingredient but are usually safe. In any case, inform the pediatrician about the allergy before getting the child vaccinated.
  • Always carry emergency medicines in your bag. Keep one in your child’s bag and one in your car’s glove compartment. Make sure you use the medications before the expiry date.
  • If your child is highly allergic, make them wear medical identification for emergency responders and caregivers to know what medicines to give.
  • Find alternatives that your child can enjoy. For example, if they are allergic to milk, find vegan options that are equally good. You can also replace ice cream with sorbet, which is dairy-free.
  • Don’t make allergens, such as peanuts and tree nuts, chocolates, milk treats and other foods, accessible to the child.
  • Most importantly, ask the doctor for an emergency plan in case of a reaction and let the child know about it.

Food allergies need not stop your child from enjoying good food. Living with food allergies is living consciously, which is a healthy habit. It is all about making the right choices, not giving up on something. Your child may be too young to understand, but if you help them adopt this lifestyle and make it fun for them, they won’t mind not eating a few things to stay healthy and safe.

How do you help your kids with food allergies? Let us know about it here.


1. So What’s the Big Deal about Food Allergies?; Living With Food Allergies; Kids With Food Allergies; Asthma And Allergy Foundation of America(2014)
3. The Big-8; Allergenic Foods and their Allergens, with links to Infomall; Food Allergy Research and Resource Program; Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources; University of Nebraska-Lincoln
4. Tree Nut Allergy; Types of Allergy; Food Allergy; American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology
5. Egg Allergy; Types of Allergy; Food Allergy; American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (2019)
6. Fish Allergy; Types of Allergy; Food Allergy; American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (2019)
7. Scott H. Sicherer, F. Estelle R. Simons;Epinephrine for First-aid Management of Anaphylaxis; Pediatrics, official journal of American Academy of Pediatrics

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