Food allergies can be extremely troublesome and in rare cases can be fatal; so recognizing them and guarding against allergic reactions is vitally important. However it is possible to jump to the conclusion of a food allergy when in fact a child may only be intolerant to a particular food. It is important to differentiate between intolerance and a genuine allergy so that either can be effectively controlled.
We look at the symptoms that help to identify a food allergy and also discuss ways to manage and treat the allergy:
Symptoms of food allergies
It must be remembered that food intolerances are more common than allergies. The most commonly seen food allergies include allergies to fish, shellfish (prawns, shrimp, lobster, crayfish etc), nuts, eggs, peanuts, milk and certain fruits (most commonly strawberries and tomatoes). Though food allergy symptoms can vary widely and presentation may differ greatly from child to child. The emergence of the symptoms can also vary from a few minutes to a several hours; though the most common food allergy symptoms are:
- An itchy rash or hives could follow the consumption of the allergy causing food
- There could be a runny nose, sneezing and hay fever like symptoms
- There may also be gastrointestinal symptoms such as indigestion, stomach pain or cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and so on
- In extreme cases there could be shortness of breath, swelling of the throat and difficulty breathing and swallowing. There could be a sudden drop in blood pressure and chest pain. these are signs of anaphylaxis, a potentially fatal allergic reaction and such symptoms must be treated as a medical emergency.
Symptoms that may not be food allergies
Does your child actually have an allergy or is it a food intolerance that he or she has? The differences between food allergies and intolerance are:
- Food allergies can be triggered suddenly and may be manifest even after exposure to a miniscule bit of the allergen. On the other hand food intolerance is usually triggered when a lot of the food is consumed and often.
- Food intolerance symptoms are chiefly related to digestion generally don’t cause hives, rashes and runny nose symptoms. Food intolerance can also cause headaches, irritability or nervousness, heartburn, gas and bloating.
- Food intolerance symptoms are not life threatening where as strong allergic reactions could be.
Treatment for food allergies
Avoidance is the obvious solution for managing food allergies. However this can mean being extremely vigilant about checking the ingredients of everything that a child eats. Parents would also typically have to be prepared for an extreme reaction such as anaphylactic shock and may need the child to carry an EpiPen, and alert others to their child having an allergy with the help of medical alert bracelets and so on.
Antihistamine medications can help control an allergic reaction including runny nose, digestive disturbances and so on. However this is effective only after a child has actually ingested the problematic food. So there is no real way to prevent the allergic reaction.
Allergy shots can be quite useful for controlling allergies to insect bites, indoor allergens, pollen and so on. When administered over a longer duration, the injections could help diminish the allergic reactions to these allergens. This is done by gradually desensitizing the allergy sufferer so that they don’t have as acute a reaction to the allergen. So kids who are allergic to dust, pet dander, mold and so on could well be ‘cured’.
However these injections are not found to be effective in the case of food allergies. Avoidance, management and preparedness remain the main treatment protocols for food allergies. The good news is that many children tend to outgrow their food allergies.