Food allergies and intolerances are often discussed at my school, as they can be the starting point for more major health issues later in life. Many unpleasant symptoms can be eliminated once food allergies or intolerances are addressed and dealt with. However, many parents are unaware of how to recognize a food issue in their child, and therefore they often go undetected and the kids grow up eating foods that are harming their bodies and their health.
There is a big difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance. Food allergies occur when your immune system reacts to foreign substances in the body. The resulting symptoms are caused by the chemicals made by the immune system as it tries extra hard to fight these foreign substances. This immune reaction is then triggered every single time these same foreign substances enter the body. Food allergies start in the first year of life in about 80% of cases. A food intolerance, on the other hand, is a reaction to food that does not involve the immune system at all. When someone has an intolerance, they can often tolerate small amounts of the food, but larger amounts can prompt symptoms. Intolerances are often caused by a lack of a particular enzyme needed to metabolize a specific nutrient or substance in a food. The best example is lactose (milk sugar). It is estimated that about 70% - 80% of all adults are lactose intolerant.
Some of the most common symptoms of a food allergy or intolerance include vomiting, excessive spitting up in infants, diarrhea or constipation, colic, sneezing, nasal congestion, wheezing, coughing, asthma, and any type of skin rash such as hives or eczema. Other less common symptoms can include puffiness in the face, sleeping issues, headaches, ear infections and ADD or ADHD.
The difficult part of diagnosing food allergies or intolerances based on symptoms alone is that they can show up within minutes of when the child consumes the food, or within days or even weeks. It may be hard to link a skin rash in your child to the grilled cheese sandwich they ate the weekend before at a birthday party.
Some of the most common foods that people are allergic to include cow’s milk and other dairy products, eggs, gluten (wheat), peanuts and tree nuts (walnuts, pecans, cashews, pistachios, hazelnuts and almonds), beans, soybeans and other soy products, fish and shellfish. Other slightly less common causes of food allergies or intolerances include citrus fruits, food additives, pesticides, and mushrooms.
If you suspect your child may have a food allergy or intolerance, try eliminating that particular food from their diet for 1 month to see if symptoms go away. It is very important that allergies and intolerances are detected early on to prevent more permanent damage to the child. A specialized doctor or nutritionist can help you figure out how to eliminate certain foods and what to watch for.