Food allergies are not rare in children below the age of one, with eggs, cow’s milk and peanuts being the most common allergenic foods. Most children with a food allergy will have a mild allergy to one or two foods. Typically, children with egg and cow’s milk allergy will outgrow their food allergy by the age of five. For some children, the food allergy, particularly a peanut allergy, can be severe and lifelong.

“Food allergy occurs in about 6 per cent of children younger than one year but decreases to about 3-4 per cent by the time the child reaches 5 years of age,” says Associate Professor Anne Goh, Head and Senior Consultant, Allergy Service, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), a member of the SingHealth group.

What causes food allergies?

A food allergy is an abnormal immunological response to, usually, a small amount of food protein. The exact cause of a food allergy is unknown, and it is not clear why some children develop a food allergy and others do not. Food allergy tends to be more common in children with a family history of allergic diseases.

It is possible that sensitisation to the food protein may occur even before the child is born, during pregnancy. “Current advice to pregnant women is that they should not avoid foods during pregnancy as it is still not known what levels of intake of the food is required to cause a food allergy in the child,” says Prof Goh.

At present, there is no definite way to prevent food allergy in children.

Food allergy symptoms

One of the most common food allergy symptoms in children is hives, an itchy skin rash. Other food allergy symptoms include:

  • Red rash around the mouth
  • Itching and swelling of the mouth and throat
  • Atopic dermatitis or eczema
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Abdominal pain

“Atopic dermatitis or eczema can be triggered by a food allergy especially in very young infants. The eczema tends to be severe,” says Prof Goh.

A food allergy is usually diagnosed by an allergist with the help of an allergy skin test.

Read on to learn more about treatment options available, and tips to deal with food allergies in children.

Ref: R14