Food allergy is when the body’s immune system mistakes a food protein as a threat. The body reacts by releasing chemicals that cause an allergic reaction, which can consist of many different symptoms. These symptoms may include rash or hives, swelling, difficulty swallowing or breathing difficulties which can become life threatening. Approximately 15 million Americans have food allergies, includng nearly 6 million children.
Food allergy is sometimes confused with food intolerance, which usually involves the body’s gastrointestinal system and causes trouble digesting the food. It can cause significant distress but is not life threatening.
The most common food allergens in the United States are dairy, egg, wheat, soy, peanut, tree nuts, fish and shellfish. If diagnosed with a food allergy, the person should avoid all foods in that food group (See “Tips for Avoiding Your Allergen” at FoodAllergy.org), and may be asked to carry a self-injectable epinephrine device.
If you suspect that your child has a food allergy, a full allergy evaluation is recommended. This will include testing either by skin prick method in our office or by blood work.
If your child is diagnosed with a food allergy, a protocol (a plan to follow in case of accidental exposure to the food) will be written and given at the time of the visit. This food protocol is often required by schools and daycares, along with medication authorization forms. The protocols need to be updated yearly, which can be done at the annual appointment. Please do not wait until the end of the summer to request an updated protocol. We require at least two weeks to complete any paperwork. Our Food Allergy Info Sheet outlines some important points.
Many children outgrow food allergy over time. This is why it is important to return yearly for follow-up and repeat testing. If testing reveals it is appropriate, a food challenge may be offered in our office. This is when your child eats the food in our office under close supervision. This is the only way to truly know if the child has outgrown the allergy. See our Food Challenge Sheet for information about these visits and what foods you might be asked to bring.