What is a food allergy?
A food allergy is a condition where the immune system reacts to a food because it thinks the food is harmful. Someone who has a food allergy may have an allergic reaction after eating a food that he/she is allergic to.
Most allergic reactions occur within minutes of ingesting an allergen and may lead to uncomfortable symptoms such as hives, swelling, itchiness, difficulty breathing, nausea, upset stomach, vomiting, lightheadedness and more. Anaphylaxis is a serious life-threatening allergic reaction.
Other allergic reactions, such as Food Protein Induced Enterocolitis Syndrome (FPIES), may not occur until hours after ingesting an allergen.
How do you diagnose a food allergy?
The most important tool for diagnosing a food allergy is a thorough review of the details of the reaction(s). It may be helpful to bring the following with you to the appointment if you are worried about a food allergy:
- A detailed timeline of the events around the time of the reaction(s)
- Photographs of any rashes during the reaction
- Ingredient lists of the food(s) suspected to have caused the reaction(s)
- A small amount of the actual food(s) suspected to have caused the reaction(s)
Skin tests and blood tests for food allergies can be helpful in some cases, but not all of them. Based on the details of the reaction(s), your allergist will determine which patients need extra testing.
How do you manage a food allergy?
AVOID THE ALLERGEN
Read labels using the "Triple Check" method
Once at the store before buying it
Once when you get home and put it away
Again before you serve or eat the product
Be careful to avoid cross-contamination
Do not share utensils
“May contain traces” foods should also be avoided
Know what a reaction looks like:
Have an Anaphylaxis Emergency Plan and share it with other caregivers and schools
Wear a Medic Alert bracelet
ALWAYS CARRY YOUR EPIPEN! and make sure your EpiPen has not expired (check the side of your EpiPen for expiration date)
Using an EpiPen does not need to be a scary experience. Watch this brave 5-year-old give herself her EpiPen Jr. in one of our colleague's clinics.
A nutritionally balanced diet is important for every child and sometimes this may be challenging when the diet needs to be restricted
Consider speaking with a dietician to ensure your child’s nutritional needs are met
SUPPORTING YOUR CHILD
Being diagnosed with a food allergy may be stressful for some children
Encourage your child to openly share their feelings and worries
It is also important to empower your child by giving them age-appropriate responsibilities in managing their own food allergy
Ask your allergist for tips and suggestions if needed
OTHER MANAGEMENT OPTIONS
Oral immunotherapy (OIT) is a promising alternative management option for food allergy and we are now offering it for peanut allergy in select children
With more research, other options for managing food allergies may become available in the future. Stay tuned!
Prevention of food allergies
We have recently learned that the best way to prevent development of a food allergy is through early introduction of allergenic foods. These foods include: dairy, eggs, wheat, soy, peanut, tree nuts, fish, shellfish and sesame.
Once your child is 4 - 6 months of age and starts to show interest in eating solids, you should introduce these foods to them in developmentally appropriate forms and keep them in your child's diet on a regular basis.