How to Tell It's a Food Allergy
Since there's such a range of symptoms, how can you tell if your child has a food allergy rather than a cold or a stomach bug? The best clue is the timing of her reaction: Symptoms usually appear within seconds to minutes after eating, but almost always within two hours. A skin reaction like flushing or hives is another key. "Most children with a food allergy have some kind of skin symptom soon after eating," says Dr. Sampson.
If you suspect that your child has a food allergy, ask your pediatrician for a referral to a pediatric allergist, who will perform a physical exam, take a detailed history of your child's food sensitivities, and use skin tests or blood tests to detect food-allergy antibodies. Even if your child has a mild reaction to a food, it's important to call your pediatrician. "Just because the first reaction was mild doesn't mean the next one will be too," says Dr. Wood.
It's also important to recognize the difference between an allergy and an intolerance. According to a new study, a third of parents reported that their baby or toddler had a bad reaction to a food. However, food intolerance can cause some of the same symptoms as a food allergy. While an allergy involves the immune system, an intolerance occurs when the body lacks the enzyme to digest a specific food. Symptoms can appear up to six hours after eating but are never life-threatening. Here are the key signs of both conditions.
- Upset stomach
- Gas and bloating
- Abdominal cramps
- Skin redness and itching
- Rashes or hives
- Red, watery eyes
- Nasal congestion, runny nose, sneezing
- Swelling of the lips, face, or throat
- Severe breathing difficulty
- Loss of consciousness