Introducing foods to a child should be a fun experience. Whether the parent opts to start with purees or Baby Led Weaning, watching a child experience a new food is usually an enjoyable process…unless the meal ends in an allergic reaction. Concerns about food allergies in kids are one of the most common reasons for a call or visit to the pediatrician. We’ve put together an explanation of food allergies and a list of “red flags” so families know what to look for as well as information on where to find allergen-friendly foods on Long Island.
Allergic reactions are caused when a baby or child has an abnormal reaction to a food. Their immune system responds to certain kinds of proteins. Some allergies are passed down through families while other appear randomly. Roughly 5% of children have food allergies. Sometimes kids outgrow them, but in other cases, they have the allergy for life. Their response to coming into contact with an allergen can vary in intensity. For some, contact results in a rash or some tummy trouble, while for others exposure can be life-threatening.
Approximately 90% of food allergies come from a small list of foods: eggs, milk, peanuts, wheat, soy, tree nuts (like walnuts, Brazil nuts, and cashews), fish and shellfish. A child experiencing an allergy will display various symptoms, but the most common are hives, itching in/around the mouth, swelling/welts, vomiting and trouble breathing.
Families concerned about allergies should avoid high allergen foods, especially in the early stages of introducing solids. The family pediatrician should provide a list of age-appropriate foods. Do not introduce multiple new foods at a time. If the child has a reaction, it’s challenging to pinpoint the source if there are several potential causes. Keep in mind that children can try a food several times before an allergic reaction manifests.
Allergies are different than food intolerance. Food intolerance is strictly a gastrointestinal issue; it doesn’t involve the immune system like allergies do. If a child has food intolerance, it means she has trouble digesting a particular food. Excessive gas or diarrhea are common side effects. Intolerance can look like an allergic reaction so a family’s best bet is to contact a pediatrician or pediatric allergist for a diagnosis.
To assist in making a proper diagnosis on allergens, families should know the child’s symptoms, how long after consuming the food that the reaction occurs, the frequency of the reactions and if there’s a family history of allergies.
An allergy or intolerance doesn’t mean children are barred from eating some of their favorite treats. Long Island Mamas has a list of bakeries for people with dietary restrictions (read here).
It can be challenging to find dairy-free, gluten-free, or eggless items in traditional grocery stores. Long Island Mamas also has a list of health food stores carry these specialty items, and more (read here). If you live near Huntington, check out our review on Wild Flour Bakery which specializes in gluten-free, organic and other allergen-free baked goods.
By Rachel Minkowsky
Photo credit: christmasstockimages.com