When food bites back

Posted on Jun 28, 2015 in Health Topics

When food bites back

The majority of food allergies in children are not severe, and will be outgrown with time, but they can get in the way of your child’s ability to sleep well, play normally, and function at school. The eight foods that account for most of these allergies are cow’s milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, soy and wheat.

The signs

Most serious food allergies start in infancy and early childhood, and many parents don’t even know their child has a food allergy until they end up in the emergency room. In a broader sense, parents should be aware that food allergies are more common among children who come from families where other members suffer from allergies, and also that babies who suffer from eczema are more prone to develop food allergies.

In most cases the allergy affects the skin, gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts, but in serious cases also the cardiovascular system. Dr Sarah Karabus, a Cape Town paediatrician and allergologist, points out the immediate signs, which are reactions that usually occur within minutes of eating the particular food, but can sometimes take up to two hours before becoming visible. “The most common symptoms would be hives or wheals (an extremely itchy red rash),” says Karabus. “With more severe reactions, there may be diarrhoea and vomiting.” In extreme cases there may be breathing problems, such as coughing, wheezing, voice changes or anaphylaxis.

Karabus also warns against confusing food allergies with food intolerance. “Food intolerance doesn’t involve the immune system,” she says, “which means no antibodies develop against the food as they would with an allergy.” Food intolerance is rarely life-threatening.

Be alert

“The first step would be to give the child an antihistamine,” says Karabus, “but if the child is known to have a severe allergy, the parent might also give an adrenaline injection into the thigh.” Thereafter, you should go to the closest emergency room, she adds. The best measure of precaution, though, is education – for the parents, the child if they are old enough, the family, and all the caregivers, including school staff.

“Everyone must be taught to read food labels, to determine which foods are likely to contain a particular ingredient,” says Karabus. She adds that emergency medications must always be available, even at school. The law has changed and teachers are now allowed to administer medication. Parents can get a form from their healthcare practitioner that gives written permission for teachers to act.


Karabus also gives the following advice:

If your child is allergic to a food from a major group, such as milk, supplements must be given so that the child does not develop any nutritional deficiencies.

It is useful to consult a dietician trained in the management of childhood food allergies.

Children often outgrow certain food allergies, so it’s important to let your paediatrician or allergologist retest your child every few months in order to determine if that food can be reintroduced into the diet.

Children rarely outgrow a fish allergy and only 20% of children will outgrow a peanut allergy.

If tests show that the allergy levels are decreasing, a “food challenge” should be performed whereby the food is given in incremental amounts according to specific guidelines, in a controlled hospital setting.

Source: childmag.co.za