Food allergy is the adverse, exaggerated immunological response of the body to the ingested allergen – a foreign substance or chemical perceived as a threat.
The immune system fights back against alien invasion by releasing immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies, which prompt the secretion of histamines and other chemicals that trigger a range of reactions from mild to lethal. This, all allergies should be treated seriously.
Food allergy should not be confused with food intolerance, a more common condition. Intolerance refers to a body’s inability to process or digest a substance, like lactose or gluten.
The result is discomfort-stomach cramps, flatulence and, worst, diarrhea. It is not life-threatening, and it allows the child or adult to enjoy the problem food, but in smaller amounts or in combination with safe foods.
If the person is afflicted with food allergy, eating only a minute portion of the allergen-containing food is enough to elicit an adverse reaction.
The immune system can react to the allergen in different ways and in different degrees-from minor to life-threatening responses. The severity also depends on the dosage. Generally, it takes 20 minutes after eating the problem food for any or a combination of these symptoms to appear:
– itching (of the skin or the tongue)
– hives (red, swollen patches of skin that itch or burn)
– swelling (certain parts of the body is filled with fluids)
– difficulty in breathing (from mild congestion, to shortness of breath, or to extreme asthma)
– anaphylactic shock (most severe, life-threatening allergic reaction that is often accompanied by swelling, blood-pressure drop, breathing difficulty, and fainting)
If you suspect your child to have food allergy, seek medical attention immediately.
What are the common sources of food allergies in infants and children?
The allergen can be a naturally occurring chemical in foods or an additive, like food preservatives and food colorings. Surprisingly, allergies can be traced more frequently to natural sources than to food additives.
Most food allergies in infants and children are caused by:
- Cow’s milk. This is caused by milk proteins, not lactose-the milk sugar. Thus, lactose intolerance should not be confused with milk allergy, which is more serious. Included in the same food category are casein (main protein in milk), whey (a milk ingredient that contains most of the other remaining proteins), cheese, butter, and other dairy products.
- Egg. Proteins in the egg can trigger allergic reactions. Instead of whole eggs, the same proteins can be used as ingredients in food. Hence, knowing the proteins and reading food labels are important. Watch out for baked goods, desserts, and pasta-a usually overlooked food item that contains eggs. Kids usually outgrow egg allergies by age five or six.
- Wheat. A sensitivity to the proteins found in wheat means the allergic child should avoid bread, crackers, and pastas.
- Soy. Soybean and soy-based products include tofu, vegetable oils, soy sauces, and lecithin, which is one ingredient often made from soy.
- Peanuts. The allergy-causing protein is also found in peanut oil, peanut butter, and some seasonings, especially Thai, Vietnamese, and Chinese seasonings. Peanut is not a nut, but a legume.
Most children outgrow the first four above-mentioned food allergies by the age of 10. On the other hand…[pq]…allergies to peanuts, seafood, and tree nuts (almond, cashew, and sesame seed), usually stay with the child until adulthood.[/pq]
How can I help my child prevent or overcome food allergies?
- Exclusively breast-feeding your infant for at least six months helps avoid possible food allergens during this very vulnerable period in your baby’s life.
- While breast-feeding, the mother should avoid eating foods associated with allergies. The allergens can pass to the milk, needlessly exposing the child.
- Delay the introduction of solid food to your baby’s diet until he is six months old. Exclusively breast-feeding your infant for at least six months helps avoid possible food allergens during this very vulnerable period in your baby’s life.
- Cow’s milk should be off-limits to your child until he is one year old; egg whites, until he is two; and peanuts, until he is three. Other common food-causing allergies listed above should be avoided until your child is one year old.
- Once your child’s allergy is identified, the only effective treatment is to completely eliminate it from his diet. Dietary vigilance cannot be undermined.
- Know the alternate names of your kid’s problem food. That means you have to be familiar with proteins and other chemical ingredients, which you will see in food labels.
- Always read the ingredient labels. Once your child’s is able, teach him this skill that can save his life.
- Notify the school and your child’s teachers of his condition.
- When dining out, ask the restaurant to remove the problem ingredients from the dish your child will be having.