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Family Nutrition: What's the Story with Food Allergies

The CDC reports that pediatric food allergies increased by eighteen percent from 1997 to 2007.  Although the cause of increase is unknown, it is hypothesized that this increase could be second to the ‘Hygiene Hypothesis’ which is a hypothesis that suspects our children have an underdeveloped immune system cause by being raised in more sterile conditions.  The hygiene hypothesis is thought to increase allergies to mold, dust, and food. 

There are two types of food allergies, fixed and cyclic.  Fixed food allergies are those that stimulate an immediate response upon eating.  The symptom is very apparent with lip swelling, throat swelling, difficulty breathing, or immediate hives.  The cyclic allergy is more common but less understood and this allergy can have a delayed reaction of up to three days.  The child has a hypersensitivity to a particular food, the body creates antibodies against the food, and as soon as the threshold of intake is hit, your child exhibits allergy symptoms.

Symptoms of food allergies are itching, difficulty swallowing, diarrhea, abdominal pain, difficulty breathing, nausea, vomiting, hives, eczema, or even asthma.  Twenty seven percent of children with food allergies also have eczema.  The most common allergies in children are cows milk, eggs, peanut, fruits (mostly strawberries and tomatoes), soy and wheat.

Your child has an eighty percent chance of developing food allergies if both parents have or had food allergies and a forty percent chance of developing food allergies if one parent has or had food allergies.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding introduction of solid foods before four to six months and cows milk until twelve months of age.  If your child has any allergies or family members with food allergies it is suggested to avoid introduction of wheat until twelve months of age, eggs until two years of age, and peanut butter and shellfish until three years of age.

If your child exhibits signs of allergies remove the food from the child’s diet.  If you are unsure of what the specific food is, keep a food and symptom record to stimulate your memory and assist with assessing the culprits.  Make an appointment with an allergist who will review the food diary and ask lots of questions.  The doctor will most likely order a RAST (blood test) or skin prick test, dependent on your child’s age.  Once you find out which food is the culprit, eliminate it completely from your child’s diet for at least six month. This is labor intensive and requires looking over food ingredient lists, calling companies to insure there is no cross contamination during manufacturing, and understanding ‘key words’ that may indicate the culprit is included in the food.  There are times when you still may not know exactly what is triggering an allergy response. When this is the case it is recommended to only eliminate one type of food at a time and review clinical symptoms. 

A registered dietitian has a lot of knowledge when it comes to food allergies and can help assess diet records and assist with elimination diets.  Ask your allergist for a recommendation.  If you are having trouble finding a dietitian in your area, ask Amy and I will help you find a dietitian in your area. Good luck and be well.

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