21 Oct 2014

How Do You Know Your Child Has Food Allergies?

I've mentioned previously that both Eli and Kai have food allergies. It was pretty severe with Eli, so much so that we carry anapen around with us at all times.

Unfortunately food allergies are very common in children now, but fortunately there are preventive measures in place in most childcare centres and schools to help children and parents manage their condition. 

Being a parent to two kids with allergies I get asked a few questions about this topic. I'd like to share a few of the commonly asked questions I get ...

How did you know your son had allergies?
With Eli how we found out was when we attempted to give him formula. It was a can of stock standard formula that you can get from any supermarket or chemist. After he had a few sips he projectile vomited, and within minutes developed hives around his face and all over his body. His face went puffy, he developed red circles under his eyes and he was really itchy.

We took him to the GP and he was looked straight away. They administered some antihistamine to ease the itch and another form of medication to help with the hives.

A few days later we had to return once his body had returned to normal to do a skin (or prick) test to start the process of determining what he was allergic to; and develop a plan to manage it.

The initial prick test identified he was allergic to cows milk, eggs, wheat, soy, nuts and seafood. We were given a referral to see a paediatrician who specialises in allergies, who conducted another round of the prick test and blood test to measure Eli's immune system's response to particular foods, by checking the amount of allergy type antibiotics are in his blood stream.

Eli recovering from a recent allergic reaction

What can I do to prevent my kids from getting food allergies?
That is the million dollar question. Right now research and medicine is unable to pin point how or why one develops allergies to one or more types of foods. As I mentioned food allergies has been on the increase the past several years, however the understanding of it is still in its infancy. No one knows whether it is something developed during the womb, something passed on hereditarily, environmental factors or even diet.

Personally, I have my own theory based on no research, and the fact that food allergies are common in developed countries, and changing my own diet ... but I'll keep those opinions to myself. 

How do you know if my child has allergies?
Look out for reactions your child may be displaying. Typical reactions include sudden itchiness around the face or body, hives, vomiting, diarrhoea, swelling of the face, and if your child is old enough to tell you they may mention a tingling in their mouth and or tummy pains.

Some children exhibit these symptoms instantly like Eli does. He'll start scratching furiously and his skin will start to go red when he's eaten something he's allergic to. Kai however, takes several minutes. One time we were out at a pub and I gave him some of my mash potatoes. Forty minutes later he was scratching his head and another twenty minutes later he started projectile vomiting.

What should I do if I think my child is having an allergic reaction to something?
Firstly, try and remember what it was you last fed your child before he showed symptoms and avoid giving that particular food to your child in the mean time. Common food allergies are nuts, cows milk and eggs but kids could be allergic to various types of foods. For example my friend's daughter is allergic to peas. 

Speak to your GP to review your child's symptoms to determine whether they do have allergies. Mention what you fed your child, what reactions they exhibited and discuss what you should do in the event your child shows these symptoms again. You may also want to discuss some testing to confirm allergies.

If you're child is being looked after by someone else also mention to them not to feed your child certain foods they could be allergic to. 

What should I do if I want to know for sure my child has allergies?
Contact your GP and ask if they do the prick test to confirm whether your child is allergic to particular foods. If they don't do it ask your GP to recommend another practice that does, or a doctor they know who has some knowledge in this field. Or you can contact the children hospital in your state as they would do it and have more contacts for you, I know Westmead Children's Hospital  in Sydney provide this service.

I'm still breastfeeding but I think he may have food allergies so should I avoid certain foods so it's not carried across to my child?
I'd suggest trial and error. If you're still breastfeeding and think your child has allergies, again try to remember what it was you ate last that may be causing the symptoms and remove from your diet to see if there is an improvement in your child's condition. 

For example Kai had rashes around his face and body for weeks that would go away even after we saw the doctor and was given steroid cream to tackle the condition. I was still breastfeeding at the time and our doctor suggested it could be food allergies since his symptoms hadn't improved. We did the skin prick test and results indicated he was allergic to cows milk and eggs. At the time I did start eating more eggs in my diet trying to increase my protein intake so I stopped eating eggs and avoided milk if I could. There was an improvement in Kai's skin after I made these changes.

To read more information I recommend going to the Australiasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy website. I'm also happy to share more info, answer questions or provide some contacts based on personal experiences so feel free to email me on gen.y.mum@gmail.com 

Disclaimer: Information above is based on personal experience and advice I was given for on my sons' situation. You should always speak to a medical professional to discuss your situation. 
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