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5 Signs Your Child is Having an Allergic Reaction to Food

Jill Castle, MS, RDN
January 3, 2019 . 3 min read

1. Deciphering the symptoms

If your child has trouble breathing or diarrhea after eating, you may suspect a food allergy, but sometimes it is hard to tell if that is really the cause. You may find it difficult to accurately assess the situation after asking your child to describe his or her symptoms because your child may not know how to explain what he or she is feeling and may be too fussy to respond at all. Even if you can pin down what is bothering your child, food allergy symptoms are similar to those caused by asthma, environmental allergies, and food intolerances (think lactose intolerance). Luckily, there are a few telltale signs that it might be a food allergy.

2. Food allergies act faster

If your child recently had milk, soy, eggs, wheat, tree nuts, peanuts, fish, or shellfish, your suspicion of a food allergy may be warranted because these foods account for approximately 90 percent of children’s food allergies. However, it is also important to note how long ago your child had these foods, because food allergies typically cause acute symptoms within two hours of the food being eaten, unlike food intolerances, which may cause symptoms as many as 12 hours later.

3. Skin reactions

An itchy skin rash, like hives or eczema, which appears scaly and may blister or peel, may be an indicator that your child is having an allergic reaction to food. Other skin reactions may include skin swelling around the eyes and lips. If the rash or swelling is significant, worsening, or covers much of your child’s body, you should seek medical care.

4. Vomiting and diarrhea

If your child feels sick to his or her stomach, has already vomited, has diarrhea, or is suffering from abdominal pain, his or her body may be trying to expel the food that caused the allergy. Since gastrointestinal symptoms can be caused by a variety of factors, it is important to monitor your child’s condition and consider when and what foods they have recently eaten.

5. Respiratory symptoms

Food allergies may also affect your child’s respiratory system, including his or her lungs and throat. This may cause difficulty breathing and other symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing, a runny nose, or swollen lips, tongue, eyes, or face. You should seek emergency care if these symptoms result in trouble breathing or swallowing, or if your child has a short, barking cough, because he or she may be experiencing anaphylaxis.

6. Anaphylaxis

If your child shows signs of a full-body reaction within two hours of eating an allergen, call 911 immediately. This type of reaction is called anaphylaxis, and it affects multiple organ systems, in addition to causing blood pressure to drop. It may even cause a reaction within just minutes. Symptoms such as a sense of impending doom or fear, difficulty breathing, pale skin, dizziness, lightheadedness, and loss of consciousness indicate a life-threatening emergency that needs to be treated immediately.

Sources:

  • Joneja JV
  • The Health Professionals Guide to Food Allergies and Intolerances.
    Sicherer S
  • Food Allergies: A Complete Guide for Eating When Your Life Depends on It.
    Food Allergy Research & Education.

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