I was interviewed this week on TV about food allergies. I’ve pushed all my inner-Cindy Brady moments aside. Watch the video below…

When F was about 13 months old his face turned bright red after he ate breakfast one morning. I eliminated all the foods he had eaten that morning– milk, oatmeal, banana and berries. He’d had all those foods many times but I was concerned he’d developed an allergy. Gradually, I introduced them back, one food at a time. Mild reactions returned (his face looked like a work of art, his ears turned red), but inconsistently, so I was confused. After strict re-introductions, I finally figured out cinnamon was causing his facial flushing. Turns out, regular oatmeal did nothing, but eating apple and cinnamon oatmeal he got all red goofy faced. To this day, F doesn’t complain when eating cinnamon, I just know he has ingested it when his face is covered in artful red spottiness.
We were lucky; F’s reaction was mild and limited to cinnamon. It’ still unclear to me if it is a true allergy. I consider him sensitive to it so I avoid serving him cinnamon whenever I can.
But I had a dagger of fear in my heart while trying to determine what was causing his facial rash for a few weeks. Like most parents who have children with allergies, I found the not knowing what was going to happen absolutely unnerving.

Allergies can be scary. Strict avoidance of a food is the only way to assure you avoid a reaction. Learn the F-A-S-T formula to stay safe.

Fact is, some children have only one food allergy, while others are very sensitive and allergic to multiple foods. Some children may outgrow allergies, others can have them for a lifetime.

Even pediatricians have a hard time diagnosing allergies. One study this year surveyed over 400 pediatricians & family doctors regarding typical knowledge about allergies. The doctors answered only 61% of the questions right. When I looked at the questions in the study, I certainly don’t think I would have scored 100% either. So, if you’re confused about food allergies, know you’re not alone—diagnosing food allergies may not be as straightforward as you think. 

Some Data:

  • There is no real cure for food allergies. Some allergies fade away with time, but once a child is past the age of 2 or 3 years, they may continue to have a particular allergy throughout life.
  • Allergies can present at any age, although allergies are most common in infants and children up to 3 years of age.
  • About 4% of children in the US have food allergy symptoms. This is up over the last decade. A study in Pediatrics found that between 1997 and 2007, food allergies have risen 18%.
  • Blood test results and allergy symptoms are not the same!  In the same year that we say 4% of children have food allergies, 9% have positive blood tests to peanuts.
  • There is no perfect consensus on why allergies are on the rise. Some physicians and statisticians think that due to increased awareness there are simply more children diagnosed now, while others feel environmental exposures (nut oils in baby lotions, for example) have increased rates of sensitivities & allergies in children.
  • Milk allergy is the most common allergy in children, followed by peanut, egg, and shellfish.
  • Milk allergy may manifest in early infancy as a baby is exposed to cow’s milk proteins. Changing formula or reducing dairy intake for a breast-feeding mom can often eliminate symptoms.
  • Lactose intolerance is not a food allergy to milk. Lactose intolerance is uncommon in children under age 5 years of age.
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms however can be a sign of food allergies: diarrhea, blood in the stools, mucus-like stools or vomiting.
  • Runny nose is not thought to be a sign of food allergies.
  • Severe and life threatening allergic reactions are rare, but do happen.  Adolescents are more likely to have a severe reaction than young children.

Mama Doc Tips For Decreasing Risks For Allergies:

  • The AAP (and me!) recommend waiting to introduce any solid food until your infant is 6 months of age. One study published this year refutes this recommendation but it has not changed my opinion and recommendation.
  • Learn the F-A-S-T formula. (Facts-Avoidance-SIgns/Symptoms-Treat Immediately). Find an educator to help you. This stuff is tough!
  • If your baby starts to develop eczema or significant/severe skin rash under 6 months of age, talk to you pediatrician about the possibility of food allergies.
  • If you baby or child develops swelling of the lips, flushing of the face, a cough, excessive drooling, or vomits immediately upon ingestion of a particular food, stop providing it to your child. If your baby is having a hard time breathing, call 911 immediately.
  • If your baby vomits every time after eating a particular food, stop providing it until you determine if it’s an allergy.
  • If you have a family history of food allergies (especially severe allergies or anaphylaxis) consider waiting until age 2 years of age to introduce nuts and shellfish.
  • Talk with your pediatrician if you have concerns. If you’re still confused or alarmed, inquire about seeing a pediatric allergist.
  • If your child’s mouth gets itchy or swollen after eating a new fruit or food and also suffers from hay fever or a diagnosis of allergic rhinitis, consider talking with your pediatrician about oral allergy syndrome. Sometimes, those children with hay fever may develop sensitivities to fruits that cause cross-reactions to similar proteins. A common oral allergy syndrome comes from a sensitivity to Urushiol (poison-ivy) also found in mango. Peeling the fruit or cooking the fruit will eliminate the symptoms.  Avoiding it of course, does the same.

Bottom line: If your child reacts to a particular food every time they ingest it, they are likely allergic or sensitive to the food. Your child’s clinical response is far better than any lab test, blood test, or skin prick. Trust your instincts and avoid foods that cause alarm. If they continue, talk with your pediatrician or an allergist or an allergy educator who may assist in helping you determine how best to care for and protect your child.