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How Do I Know If My Child Has A Food Allergy?

Last time, we talked about food allergies (Type 1 IgE mediated true allergic reaction) and food sensitivities (Type 3 IgG mediated delayed immune reaction), the difference between them, the tests we use to find out whether you are allergic or intolerant to certain foods and what you need to do if you are. 

As I said last time, my interest in food allergies is not just professional – I am also the mother of a child with deadly food allergies. One of the most common questions my patients and friends ask is me is how did I discover this? I will answer this question in this blog and explain the signs to look out for if you’re worried that you your child might have true food allergies.

Case Study – My Son, Trey

There are many scary things about being a parent but one of the scariest is finding out your child has deadly food allergies.

My story began on a hot July afternoon. I live in Seattle, known for its rainy weather and not for hot summers. That year we had hit record-breaking temperatures of over 100oF. On this particular day I was enjoying an ice cream to try and cool off. My son, Trey was 10 months old at the time and, as most children of that age are interested in tasting anything their mothers eat, I let him have a lick of my ice cream. Within a minute he broke out in hives around his lips and the skin on his face became blotchy.

My Naturopathic training had taught me not to give milk products to young infants in order to decrease the chances of them developing food sensitivities so Trey had never eaten dairy products until that moment. This meant I was able to identify this hive outbreak as a food reaction.

The main idea behind not giving dairy products to children until they are a bit older is that it takes many months following birth for the digestive system to mature, including the development of a strong, healthy intestinal cell barrier.

The intestinal cells should be tightly packed to stop the food we eat from being absorbed into our blood stream. If they become unhealthy (or before the digestive system is fully mature) then gaps appear between the cells which allow the intestinal barrier to become leaky – what is known as ‘Leaky Gut’; the main working theory behind food sensitivities.

It is thought that when larger food molecules are absorbed into the blood stream through cells that are “leaky” and therefore not keeping a closed boundary, an IgG immune reaction is triggered as we saw last time.

At the time of Trey’s first reaction I did not realize the severity of his food reaction, thinking it was more of a food sensitivity. However, because of his obvious intolerance, I did not give him dairy again for many months until, one day, he had a sip of my whey protein shake and it sent him into an anaphylactic reaction.

This was the scariest parenting moment of my life as I watched my child’s lips and tongue swell within seconds – he was crying and starting to wheeze and have difficulty breathing. I called 911 and waited nervously with him in my arms, with the 911 operator on the phone, for the paramedics to arrive.

Because of his reaction to the ice cream a few months earlier, Trey’s pediatrician had recommended I pick up an epi-pen and Benadryl (an anti-histamine) as a precaution. I had given Trey the Benadryl immediately as well as frequent doses of apis (a homeopathic remedy for allergic reactions) and I had the epi-pen in hand ready to give him an adrenaline injection if I needed to. Fortunately, the reaction stopped progressing and the swelling did not get any worse. The paramedics took us to the hospital and Trey was observed for a few hours before being sent home.

Shortly after this episode we went to the allergist to be tested for IgE type 1 food allergies. Trey tested positive for dairy and tree nuts.

Food Allergies – What to Look Out For

The first time your child has a reaction to a certain food they may just get hives or red, blotchy skin or it could cause a severe reaction like swelling, vomiting or difficulty breathing but, each time they consume that food the reaction will get stronger and more violent. The reaction for most people is also dose dependent, so if they just have a small amount of the food, the reaction is likely to be less severe than if they had eaten more of it.

However, the level of sensitivity can vary with some people being sensitive not only to what they eat but also to breathing in airborne particles of the problem food; wheat flour would be a perfect example of this.

When introducing new foods to your baby it’s a good idea to keep a record of any foods they have a reaction to. You need to stay vigilant though, even if the child has had the food several times before with no problem as food reactions may not occur the first or second time they are exposed to the food.

Allergic reactions include, but are not limited to, the following:

Most Common Allergenic Foods

There are many foods that can cause a food allergy, however a majority of IgE mediated reactions are from the following foods:

Will My Child Outgrow Their Food Allergy?

In some cases yes. Over the years, the immune system can become less reactive and children can therefore outgrow their food allergies. You can have their blood retested every few years to see if the IgE levels in response to the particular food have gone down. If the levels continue to decrease over time there is a good chance your child will outgrow their food allergy. If the IgE levels go up or stay the same it’s likely they will never outgrow it.

If you are concerned that your child has food allergies or sensitivities you can check out my comprehensive food allergies and sensitivities program. You can find out more about testing by reading last week’s article here. As a physician I can guide people through the testing, the elimination of foods, strategies for avoidance and treatment after exposure. And, as a mother of a child who has severe food allergies, I know exactly what you are going through and can offer my personal experience of living with, and adapting to, Trey’s allergies.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences of living with a child who suffers true allergies –how you found out, how you manage their day-to-day life without imposing too many restrictions on them. Please leave your comments or questions in the comments box below.

Health is a process and at A Path to Natural Health my goal is to guide my patients along their journey to health.

Dr. Maura Scanlan

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