Food allergies are an overreaction of your immune system to a protein found in a certain food. The majority of allergic reactions are caused by eight food types: cow’s milk, eggs, fish, peanuts, shellfish, soy, tree nuts, and wheat. In most cases, food allergies become evident in young children who can outgrow them, but food allergies can also show up for the first time in adulthood.
Food allergies can present a number of ways. You may have a relatively mild allergic reaction, like hives, to a certain food– but after being exposed to the same food once again, you may experience a more severe allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis. Symptoms of an allergic reaction can range from vomiting or stomach cramps to hives, trouble breathing, wheezing, and feeling like your throat is closing. When the latter occurs, it’s called anaphylaxis and is a medical emergency.
People with food allergies should be managed by an allergist. If the allergist recommends an Epipen, it should be carried around at all times. I cannot stress the importance of this enough. Time is of the essence in the event of an anaphylactic reaction, and the sooner the Epipen can be can injected, the better the outcome for the person. If a child is old enough, I would recommend they carry the Epipen in their pocket or backpack.
The newest studies on food allergies look at younger siblings of a child with a known food allergy. Previously, physicians recommended waiting until 1 year old to introduce high risk allergy foods such as eggs, peanut butter, and seafood. More recent studies, however, have found that introducing children to these food groups earlier has actually decreased the incidence of food allergies. So, if you have a child with a food allergy and are expecting a new baby, talk to your child’s pediatrician or allergist about specific ways to introduce foods safely to your baby.
One takeaway for parents of children who do not have food allergies is that you don’t have to be strict about waiting until 1 year old to introduce certain foods. In fact, the only foods to exclude in your infant’s diet until 1 year old are raw fish and honey. Of course, it’s important to introduce foods safely– and always be mindful to avoid choking hazards when considering bite sizes. At your child’s check up visits, be sure you ask your pediatrician about how to expand your infant’s diet and if there are any specific considerations for your child as you introduce baby foods and table foods.
Be vigilant as your child is trying new foods. If you see any possible signs of an allergic reaction, contact your doctor. If your child is having trouble breathing, call 911 or go to the closest Emergency Room immediately.
Jennifer Adair, M.D., was born and raised in Mobile. She joined Children’s Medical Group in July 2013 and currently practices at their Airport office. Jennifer and her husband, Cory, reside in Mobile with their sons, Finn and James Albert, and their three dogs, Barkley, Fitz, and Roo.