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Kids and Food Allergies

What You Need to Know

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Updated: January 26, 2008

Jan 26 2008
Food allergies are common, affecting about 6% of children and 2% of adults. However, they are often misunderstood, with some parents restricting their children's diets because they think that they are allergic to everything and others not believing in allergies at all and putting allergic kids at risk by offering them foods that they are allergic to. And even once you understand that your children have a food allergy, it can be hard to avoid the things that they are allergic to as many foods that cause allergies, like milk, eggs, and peanuts, are hidden ingredients in other foods.

What foods most commonly cause allergies?

Although you can be allergic to almost any food, most food allergies are caused by milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish.

Why is my child allergic to everything?

Although it is possible to have an allergy to more than one food, if your doctor has said that your child is 'allergic to everything', then you might get a second opinion from a Pediatric Allergist. As more parents learn about food allergies, they often ask their doctors to do allergy testing. Unfortunately, although easy to do, these food allergy tests are often difficult to interpret. With the RAST tests which are done on a blood sample, instead of a simple yes or no answer, the results show IgE antibody levels, which many people have in low levels even without an allergy. Typically, only high or very high IgE levels are thought to cause real allergic reactions.

Even with skin testing, a positive result only suggests that the person is allergic to the food. For example, if you test positive for allergies to milk and peanut butter, but have never had an allergic reaction or any typical allergy symptoms, then you likely aren't really allergic to those foods.

When can my kids have allergy tests?

Allergy testing can be done at almost any age. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 'age is no barrier to skin testing; positive results can be obtained at any age.' It is thought that skin testing is not as accurate in children under age 12 months.

Blood allergy tests can also be done in younger children, but they can require a large sample of blood, so you might just ask your doctor to test your child for the things that you are most worried about.

Remember that not all children need allergy testing though. You might try simple avoidance of common things that trigger allergies first.

Can food allergies be prevented?

By avoiding high risk foods, it may be possible to prevent food allergies from ever developing. To prevent high risk children from developing food allergies, such as those who already have food allergies, eczema, hay fever or asthma, or family members with these problems, you should:
  • Breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of your baby's life (that means no formula supplements or solid foods) and then continue to breastfeed until your child is at least 12 months old.
  • Avoid peanuts and tree nuts while breastfeeding. You may also want to consider avoiding eggs, cow's milk and fish while nursing.
  • If you do want to supplement your breastfeeding with formula, use a hypoallergenic formula, such as Nutramigen or Alimentum.
  • Do not introduce solid foods to your infant until he is at least six months old, and then start with an iron fortified rice cereal.
  • Avoid feeding milk and dairy products until your child is 12 months old.
  • Avoid introducing eggs (especially egg whites) until he is 2 years old.
  • Avoid peanuts, tree nuts, and fish until he is 3 years old.

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