Food allergies are on the rise, particularly in children. While the cause for this rise is not yet known, an understanding of food allergies can help you recognise the symptoms early. Having this understanding may also help you identify whether your child is more likely to develop a food allergy.
Allergies occur where a person's immune system overreacts to a substance. In Australia, an estimated 1 in 20 children (5 percent) are affected by a food allergy. For a person with a food allergy, the body responds to a harmless substance in the food, usually a protein, as though it were toxic. This immune system overreaction can cause a number of symptoms.
Symptoms of a food allergy will typically appear within 30 minutes of eating the allergen food.
Food intolerance is an adverse reaction to a chemical in a food or drink. It differs from a food allergy in that no immune response is involved.
Common symptoms of food intolerance include:
Asthma symptoms can also be triggered in some people.
The severity of an adverse reaction is linked to the amount a person consumes of the culprit food – the more a person consumes, the more severe the adverse reaction will be.
It is common for patients with food intolerance to react to several chemicals that are found in a wide range of foods. A family history of symptoms and specific chemical intolerances is common.
It can be difficult to determine whether a person has an allergy or intolerance to certain foods so it is important to see your doctor for a diagnosis.
Most children grow out of their food allergies by adolescence, especially children who are allergic to milk, egg, soybean or wheat. However, allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish are more likely to be life-long.
Approximately 90 percent of food allergies are a result of:
Having a family member with an allergic condition increases your chances of developing an allergy like asthma or hay fever. This association is less clear with food allergies as their development seem to be influenced by environment as well as genetic factors.
Most children with a food allergy do not have parents with a food allergy. If one child in the family has a food allergy, however, there can be a slightly higher risk for siblings.
While there is no known way of preventing food allergies, there are strategies that may minimise the likelihood of a food allergy developing:
It is important to know which foods trigger a child's allergy and know how to avoid them. When a child is exposed to an allergen food for the first time the reaction may not be serious. However, subsequent exposures to the allergen food can bring on increasingly severe reactions – even to the point of becoming life threatening. An Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) can help you remove any problem foods from your child’s diet, suggest alternatives to make sure they don’t miss out on essential nutrients, and help them maintain a healthy, balanced diet.
The first time a child has an allergic reaction may be frightening but allergic reactions can be managed.
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Last updated: 1 May 2014
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