Food allergies and children

Only about 6 percent of all children have clinically diagnosed food allergies. This number is rather small, but food intolerance, which presents itself much like a food allergy, adds to the public perception that this is a major issue. While the medical difference is quite different, the solution to a food allergy and intolerance is to remove the culprit food from your diet.

Food allergies can be very dangerous, and early detection is critical to managing them and the health of your child. Any family history of food allergies should be discussed with your health care provider prior to introducing solid foods to your baby. Food allergies or food intolerances can occur even if there is no previous family history of such. As you introduce your child to new foods, you should introduce each new food one at a time, and watch for any changes in your child's appearance or behaviour.

Nuts are common allergen among children and they can cause one of the more severe, even life-threatening allergic reactions known as anaphylaxis.

Some common symptoms of food allergies/intolerances include:

• Rashes or eczema, especially on the face
• Nappy rash
• Hives
• Runny nose, watery eyes or sneezing
• Diarrhoea, wind or vomiting
• Irritability
• Temperament changes
• Puffy eyes
• Nasal congestion

If you’re confused about the difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance, click here to read our article on Food allergies and intolerances.

One way to prevent food allergies is not to introduce commonly-known allergenic foods until later in your baby's life, at 1, 2 or even 3 years old. This approach is referred to as "delayed introduction." The foods that children react to are those foods they eat often. The most common food allergens that cause problems in children are eggs, milk, peanuts, soya and wheat.

A more complete list includes:

• Artificial colours and preservatives
• Berries
• Chocolate
• Citrus fruits
• Cow's milk
• Eggs
• Fish and shellfish
• Nuts
• Peanuts
• Soya
• Tomatoes
• Wheat
• Yeast

Fortunately, most allergic reactions in babies are temporary and the culprit foods can usually be reintroduced when the child is older. Food allergies can be very serious, so it is important to follow the advice that is given to you by a healthcare professional. Don’t exclude food groups from your child’s diet unless you have been advised to do so by a dietician or your GP.

Help for the allergy sufferer

While there is no cure for food allergies, eliminating foods from your diet is often easier said than done. Reading ingredient labels of foods can be a daunting and confusing task.

Eight major foods - milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soyabeans - account for 90 percent of food allergies. If you or your child suffers from one of these common food allergies, there is some good news that makes reading ingredient labels easier.

Since November 2005, food labelling rules require pre-packed food sold in the UK or the rest of the European Union (EU) to show clearly on the label if it contains one of the following as an ingredient (or if one of its ingredients contains, or is made from, one of these):

• peanuts
• nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios and macadamia nuts
• eggs
• milk
• crustaceans (including prawns, crabs and lobsters)
• fish
• sesame seeds
• cereals containing gluten (including wheat, rye, barley and oats)
• soya
• celery
• mustard
• sulphur dioxide and sulphites (preservatives used in some foods and drinks) at levels above 10mg per kg or per litre

Bear in mind that there could still be foods on the shelves that were produced before this date. These rules should make it easier for people to avoid the above foods in pre-packed food products, including alcoholic drinks. However, some people are sensitive to foods that are not on this list, so always check the ingredients carefully.

Some food labels say ‘may contain nuts’ or ‘may contain seeds’. This means that even though nuts or seeds aren’t deliberately included in the food, the manufacturer can’t be sure that the product doesn’t accidentally contain small amounts of them. If you have a nut or seed allergy you should avoid these food products.

If you think a food product has been labelled wrongly, report this to the trading standards service at your local authority.

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Thanks to tescodiets.com who have provided this article.