Allergies are a reaction your child’s body has to things it sees as harmful. Sometimes the body’s immune system treats certain foods as though they are harmful. The immune system tries to protect your child by making antibodies. These antibodies cause the body’s cells to release chemicals such as histamines. These chemicals cause a rash, itching, swelling, irritation, and tight muscles in your child's airways that make it hard for him to breathe. Children who have asthma have an increased risk of severe or life-threatening reactions.
The 8 foods that are responsible for most food allergies in children include milk, soy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (such as walnuts and cashews), wheat, fish, and shellfish. Many children grow out of food allergies to eggs, milk, wheat, or soy, but other allergies may be lifelong.
If you have family history of allergies, it may be best to wait until your child is 3 years old to feed him shellfish and food containing peanuts and tree nuts. If your child does not have allergies, asthma, eczema or hives, or has mild allergies, some studies suggest that eating small amounts of foods such as peanuts may help prevent severe allergies. Talk with your child’s healthcare provider if you have questions about foods or food allergies.
Nuts such as walnuts, almonds, pecans and cashews grow on trees. Peanuts grow underground and are not considered to be a "true nut." About half of the children with a peanut allergy are also allergic to tree nuts.
Soybeans are in the legume family (kidney beans, lentils, peas, and peanuts). Some children are allergic to more than one type of legume. Avoiding soy can be difficult as soybeans are used in many processed foods found in the United States. Most children with a soy allergy may safely eat soy lecithin and refined soybean oil.
There are 4 types of protein found in wheat (albumin, globulin, gliadin, and gluten). Your child may be allergic to any one of these proteins. Children with a wheat allergy may also react to oats, rye, and barley. Wheat allergy is often confused with celiac disease. Celiac disease is a digestive problem that causes the body to react to gluten, which is also found in barley and rye grains.
Chocolate, strawberries, corn, and tomatoes are often blamed for allergic reactions, but actually these foods rarely cause allergic reactions.
If you child is allergic to one food, he may be allergic to others. Ask your healthcare provider if your child needs to avoid other foods. It is also a good idea to have a dietitian check your child's diet from time to time.
If your infant is only allergic to soy, you can use regular (non-soy) baby formula. However, about half of the children with a milk allergy are also allergic to soy. If your child is allergic to both soy and cow’s milk, you will need to switch to a low allergy formula. There are two types:
Completely avoiding the food that causes the allergy is the only way to prevent a reaction. You will need to change the way you shop, prepare, and order foods. You can get cookbooks for people with food allergies. There are also Web sites that sell foods for people with allergies. Ask your child's dietitian for ideas about food substitutes.
If you are breast-feeding, do not eat the food your child is allergic to. Food allergens can be absorbed from your diet and enter into your breast milk.
It is very important for you to know ingredients that may cause problems if your child is allergic. The first step is to learn to read labels and get to know which ingredients contain allergens. Foods that contain milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, or soy products must list the food in plain language on the ingredient list. These possible allergens must be listed even if they are part of a flavoring, coloring, or spice blend. Here are some things to watch out for when reading food labels:
When dining out:
Always ask about ingredients if you are not sure.
Children as young as 4 or 5 can be taught that they have a part to play in managing their food allergies. Give your child simple rules such as:
When your child can read, teach him how to read labels on packages.
Caregivers, teachers and classmates
Your child’s school
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