Share this post on your profile with a comment of your own:

Successfully Shared!

View on my Profile
Food Allergies in Children

Medically reviewed by Chhavi Gandhi, MD, Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen on January 14, 2023

Food allergies have become an increasingly common discussion as gluten-free diets are more commonplace, green lights or teal pumpkins at homes indicate peanut-free allergy safe Halloween candy, and stories about the cost of EpiPens dominated the headlines for several months as prices skyrocketed. For many of us having children now, the topic of food allergies wasn’t something widely discussed when we were children. However, understanding food allergies, how they differ from food intolerances, and how to treat them are important to ensure our children’s nutrition is helpful and not harmful.


What is a food allergy?


Food allergies are an abnormal response to particular foods that results in an immune response from the body. An immune response means that certain antibodies interact with the food, and the body releases histamines to combat what it sees as a harmful intruder. The release of those histamines can result in your child experiencing a host of reactions. The most common food allergy symptoms include: 


  • Hives
  • Swelling
  • Itching in the mouth or throat
  • Tightness of the throat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Abdominal Pain
  • Nausea/ Vomiting
  • Dizziness


Children might  not show these symptoms on their first exposure to a food they are allergic to, but rather on repeat exposure. The body has to have been exposed, or “sensitized,” to the food. When a child’s body has been exposed to a food they are allergic to, their body then builds up antibodies that treat that food like an unwelcome visitor that needs to be escorted out of the body. 


The body’s immune system learns much the same way we do; the first time we accidentally touch a hot stove, we get burned, and we quickly learn not to touch hot stoves in the future. The immune system has to have the opportunity to learn what it likes and doesn’t like before it can change its behavior the next time it comes in contact with a specific food the second time.


What’s a food intolerance, and how is it different from a food allergy?


Many of the same symptoms a child exhibits from a food allergy can stem from food intolerance. The major difference between an allergy and an intolerance is that the immune system does not get involved in food intolerance. Often, food intolerance occurs because a person can’t digest a certain substance in the food, such as the lactose in milk. Food intolerance is often uncomfortable and unpleasant, but it is rarely dangerous or fatal. Symptoms of food intolerance can include:


  • Burping
  • Indigestion
  • Diarrhea
  • Gas
  • Headaches


Next Video >>

Anaphylaxis - Symptoms

Anaphylaxis - Symptoms

What are common food allergies?


Food allergies can sound overwhelming as parents work to keep their children safe from harm. Only about 5 percent of children under the age of 5 have food allergies, so they are a fairly uncommon occurrence in most children. For those children who do have food allergies, the good news is that 90 percent of food allergies are caused by only eight foods:


  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Wheat
  • Soy
  • Tree Nuts & Seeds
  • Peanuts
  • Fish
  • Shellfish


This relatively small list allows for an easier understanding of what might be causing an allergic reaction. Eggs, milk, and peanuts are the most commonly occurring food allergies in children. It’s also important to note that different foods cause different levels of allergic reaction. Typically, the most severe allergic reactions are caused by peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, and fish.


Treating food allergies


If your child consumes a specific food and has a reaction to it that threatens their ability to breathe, seek medical help immediately. If your child exhibits more mild symptoms, it is still important to talk with your Pediatrician. They can provide information about how to avoid foods your child is allergic to, and they may recommend that you work with an allergist to pinpoint the specific foods causing reactions in your child. 


For severe allergic reactions, you and/or your child may have to carry or have available an emergency treatment, such as an epinephrine injector (generic, EpiPen, AuviQ). An epinephrine auto-injector is a small, handheld device that can be used by non-medical personnel to administer epinephrine. Epinephrine, another word for adrenaline, can be a literal lifesaver for someone who is experiencing an extreme allergic reaction, also called anaphylaxis. The epinephrine can help reverse the symptoms of the anaphylaxis reaction. It can be life-saving and should be available to anyone diagnosed with a food allergy.


Food allergies can impact your child’s nutrition if they are allergic to multiple foods. It is important to discuss with your pediatrician about navigating food-restricted diets. Dietitians are also an excellent resource in understanding the best way for your child to get the nutrients they need for healthy development without triggering an allergic reaction. Children who have food allergies are able to do the activities other children their age can do. They simply must be aware of what foods are being served at a friend’s home, school lunch, or event. 


Written by Sheena McFarland

Related Articles


How to Tell if Your Child is Allergic to Something

Is your child allergic to something? Learn more about identifying allergies and whether you should seek medical help for your child.


Allergies and School

Parents and guardians of children with allergies need to take charge of their health. What are the best ways to handle allergies and school?

Send this to a friend