How do I know if my child has a food allergy?

Agueda Hernandez, MD
Family Medicine
Parents should keep track of ingredients used in cooking foods introduced to young children. Sometimes certain ingredients can cause a mild to severe reaction. If your child has had some type of reaction, your doctor can confirm a food allergy with additional testing.
Symptoms or consequences of a food allergy may include one or more of the following: a tingling sensation in the mouth, swelling of the tongue and the throat, difficulty breathing, hives, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, drop in blood pressure, loss of consciousness, and even death. Symptoms typically appear within minutes to two hours after the person has eaten the food to which he or she is allergic. If your child has any of these symptoms following ingestion of a food you should see seek immediate attention and follow-up with your health care provider. The suspect food(s) should be avoided until your child can be evaluated.

Typical symptoms occurring minutes to an hour or two after a food is eaten would raise suspicions of food allergy.  Typical symptoms include: ones affecting the skin with hives that look like mosquito bites, skin rashes, swelling and itching of the skin often including lip swelling; gut symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea; breathing symptoms such as throat tightness, repetitive cough, wheeze (symptoms could be severe including trouble breathing); and potentially blood circulation can be compromised leading to paleness, blue color, dizziness, confusion or fainting.  In its most severe form, anaphylaxis, food-allergic reactions can be fatal. 

In addition to these immediate reactions, there are a variety of symptoms and illnesses that might signal a food allergy.  These are primarily persistent and chronic symptoms affecting the skin or gut.   Some typical symptoms that may raise suspicion are rashes of atopic dermatitis (a form of eczema), seeing blood in infant stool, having poor growth and chronic vomiting, diarrhea or reflux.  It is rare for food to be the sole trigger of asthma or hay fever.  There is no clear evidence that food allergy causes behavioral problems.  There are many causes and triggers of chronic symptoms that might be attributed to food so it is important to work with your pediatrician, and often a Board-certified allergist, to determine a cause. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.