Did you know that 8% of children under 3 years old have food allergies? Or that 10 to 15 % of Americans display an intolerance to gluten? What is the difference between a food allergy and an intolerance?

Food allergies exhibit reactions that are sudden and severe. They involve the immune system and can be life threatening. Food allergies can be detected via a blood test. Symptoms typically include skin problems, hives, swelling and breathing problems (anaphylaxis being the most serious).

On the other hand, Food Intolerances tend to have delayed effects that are more subtle and variable in nature. Food Intolerances lead to such conditions as nasal congestion and stuffiness, headaches, fatigue, rashes, stomach aches, hyperactivity and behaviour problems. Food intolerances can be tested with an ELISA blood test. These conditions will not kill you, but they certainly deplete your quality of life.

Allergy to egg, milk, soy, wheat, peanut and tree nuts represents 90% of all food allergies in children. Some childhood food allergies are typically outgrown in the first few years of childhood, but others, such as peanuts and seafood, tend to remain as adults. Food intolerances such as gluten (celiac disease), can be genetically inherited autoimmune disorders that affect the intestines and restrict the absorption of nutrients into the body. These intolerances must be treated by removing the offending food from the diet for life. Failure to do so can result in osteoporosis, infertility, neurological conditions and, in rare cases, cancer.

The facts on food allergies in children:

Milk

Approximately 2.5 percent of all infants display an allergy to cow’s milk, and this same group is also likely to react to other milks derived from animals. The reaction generally relates to milk proteins, casein and whey. The sugar in milk, lactose, does not cause allergy, but can result in an intolerance.

By 5 years old, most children will outgrow their milk allergy (approx 85%); however, the milk allergy increases the risk of developing other food allergies.

Egg

Egg is the most common food allergy in children with just under 3% being affected. Children may be allergic to the white, yolk, or both. Many will outgrow the egg allergy by age 5. Again, the existence of an egg allergy in childhood increases the chances of developing nasal allergies and asthma later on.

The influenza should not be given to children with an egg allergy.

Soy

Approximately 0.3 percent of children are allergic to soy, a legume related to the peanut. This early childhood allergy is typically outgrown at a young age. Because soy is a common food allergy, and can occur in children also allergic to milk, infant formulas using hydrolyzed proteins are the best option for infants displaying an allergy to cow’s milk.

Wheat

Wheat allergy is usually outgrown at an early age, and it is rare for children with a wheat allergy to also be allergic to other cereal grains such as rice, oat and barley.

Nuts

0.6 % of all people display an allergic reaction to peanuts, one of the most a severe forms of food allergy. Peanut allergy can lead to anaphylaxis and is certainly categorised as life-threatening, particularly in children with asthma. The peanut allergy is the most common food allergy to exist in adults, as only about 20% of children will grow out of their childhood peanut allergy.

0.5 percent of people have an allergy to tree nuts, which are completely unrelated to peanuts.

Seafood

Allergy to seafood includes both fish and shellfish and can be severe and potentially life-threatening. Allergy to either of these foods is less likely to be outgrown, and therefore is commonly seen in adults.

What are the symptoms of a food allergy?

You should suspect food allergies if your child develops one or more of the following symptoms after eating a specific food, including:

· hives
· difficulty breathing
· angioedema (swollen tongue or swelling around eyes and lips, etc.)
· itching in a child’s mouth or throat
· nausea
· vomiting
· diarrhoea
· abdominal pain
· low blood pressure
· loss of consciousness