Ben had just started eating his lunch when his mom noticed him trying to scratch an itch in his mouth. After he vomited and began wheezing, his mom took him to the doctor. Ben was diagnosed with a food allergy — in this case, to peanuts.
Along with milk, eggs, soy, wheat, tree nuts, and shellfish, peanuts are among the most common foods that cause allergies.
Learning how to recognize an allergic reaction will help you get your child the medical care needed if a reaction occurs. If your child has already been diagnosed with a food allergy, it's important to know:
- how to manage your child's dietary needs
- what emergency preparations to make in the event of an allergic reaction
About Food Allergies
With a food allergy, the body reacts as though that particular food product is harmful. As a result, the body's immune system (which fights infection and disease) creates antibodies to fight the food allergen, the substance in the food that triggers the allergy.
The next time a person comes in contact with that food by touching or eating it or inhaling its particles, the body releases chemicals, including one called histamine, to "protect" itself. These chemicals trigger allergic symptoms that can affect the respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract, skin, or cardiovascular system. These symptoms might include a runny nose; an itchy skin rash; a tingling in the tongue, lips, or throat; swelling; abdominal pain; or wheezing.
People often confuse food allergies with food intolerance because of similar symptoms. The symptoms of food intolerance can include burping, indigestion, gas, loose stools, headaches, nervousness, or a feeling of being "flushed." But food intolerance:
- doesn't involve the immune system
- can be caused by a person's inability to digest certain substances, such as lactose
- can be unpleasant but is rarely dangerous
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), up to 6% of children in the United States under age 3 have food allergies. They are less common in adults but, overall, food allergies affect nearly 11 million people in the United States.
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