Kids and Food Allergies: What to Look For

Know the signs

Every parent knows that kids can be picky eaters, especially when it comes to healthy foods like broccoli and spinach.

Yet pickiness has nothing to do with some kids’ refusal to eat certain dishes. According to Food Allergy Research and Education, about 1 out of every 13 children is allergic to at least one food. About 40 percent of those children have experienced severe, life-threatening reactions.

The big problem is that most parents have no idea if their children have food allergies until they try the food for the first time and have a reaction. That’s why it’s important for parents — as well as teachers, babysitters, and everyone else who spends time with the child — to be alert for signs of a food allergy.

Which foods trigger allergies in kids?

When a child has a food allergy, their immune system overreacts, producing antibodies to the food as if it were a virus or other dangerous foreign invader. This immune reaction is what produces allergy symptoms.

The most common food allergy triggers in kids are:

  • peanuts and tree nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios)
  • cow’s milk
  • eggs
  • fish and shellfish (shrimp, lobster)
  • soy
  • wheat

Food allergy symptoms

A true food allergy can affect your child’s breathing, intestinal tract, heart, and skin. A child with a food allergy will develop one or more of the following symptoms within a few minutes to an hour after eating the food:

  • congestion, runny nose
  • cough
  • diarrhea
  • dizziness, lightheadedness
  • itching around the mouth or ears
  • nausea
  • red, itchy bumps on the skin (hives)
  • red, itchy rash (eczema)
  • shortness of breath, trouble breathing
  • sneezing
  • stomach pain
  • strange taste in the mouth
  • swelling of the lips, tongue, and/or face
  • vomiting
  • wheezing

Young children can’t always clearly explain their symptoms, so sometimes parents have to interpret what the child is feeling. Your child might be having an allergic reaction if they say something like:

  • “There’s something stuck in my throat.”
  • “My tongue is too big.”
  • “My mouth itches.”
  • “Everything is spinning.”