Food Allergies and Your Child

food allergies and your child sitting in high chair

Did you know that about 6 million children have food allergies?

That is a staggering number in my opinion. I never experienced a food allergy, so I was not very concerned about introducing my son to new foods when he was a baby. I followed our pediatrician’s recommendations until he was a certain age, but I never really thought too much about it. We were mostly breastfeeding, and I figured anything I ate must be safe for him if there had been no reaction. Looking back now at my pregnancy, I don’t recall ever having morning sickness. However, when I ate certain foods I would become nauseous or lose my appetite altogether. I didn’t reflect on this until the first time my child had a reaction to a food he ate.

We introduced solid foods using the “4 day wait rule.”

This rule recommends that when you introduce a new food to your child, you do not add another for at least 4 days. This allows you to monitor your child to see if any symptoms arise. 

We were very excited to try new things, and my son was a great eater. We enjoyed all of the excitement that came with new flavors and textures. After introducting a new oatmeal that contained apples and cinnamon, we started to notice a change in his diaper. It wasn’t the consistency as much as the rash it produced on his skin. Within 24 hours, he had bloody blisters all over his bottom, and I was a worried mess. Off to the pediatrician we went, not without me beating myself up internally thinking I had somehow caused discomfort to my sweet baby. This was not the worst of what I was going to experience with his food allergies. Yet, I am grateful for the experience because it prepared me for what was to come.

At the pediatrician’s office, we discussed the newest addition to his diet. The doctor wanted to really pin down the culprit. So, he had me reintroduce apples for four days, then cinnamon for four days. The apples were great, no reaction at all. The cinnamon, however, resulted in a much scarier response.

I will never forget the rash that instantly appeared on the side of his chubby little cheek when he reached out to grab some food and smeared it onto his face.

I was horrified and knew right right then, we were experiencing an allergic reaction. With the food removed, I sanitized his high chair, gave him a bath, and threw away anything in my house that contained cinnamon. 

The next six months were worry free! We had no more incidents with allergies. At his one year check up the doctor said he was growing great and developing perfectly. He asked if we were ready to start introducing new foods. I was excited to get home and share a delicious egg and cheese omelette with him for the first time. With my son in his highchair I proceeded to cook our breakfast, and then sat down next to him. I remember cutting a small piece of that omelet and setting it on his tray before taking a bite myself. 

The blood curdling scream that came from my child was shocking. He spit the egg onto his tray and pointed to his mouth screaming “No!” Then, the coughing began. His face had broken out into hives everywhere he touched it, much like the rash he had from the cinnamon months prior. It was like his skin was burning, and I could tell he was in pain. I immediately washed his face, hands, (everything I could really), with a washcloth and took him to the bath with my phone in one hand. We had just experienced a severe allergic reaction, and I needed to notify his pediatrician immediately. 

According to his pediatrician, eggs, (particularly the whites), are a very common food allergy in children. As I mentioned before, I have no food allergies, and I had no idea that this was common. It was most certainly a terrifying moment for us, although it could have been much worse. 

While I can’t say we have gone without incident since my son was one year old, I can say that the level of fear has dissipated over time.

We have had a few problems with eggs while eating Chinese food, as fried rice often includes them. Thankfully, my son recognized the symptoms, and had the wherewithal to not digest any food he encountered that stimulated that sensation. He would say, “No, it burns.” I learned quickly to be more vigilant about finding out whether recipes were safe or not. We discovered that foods that included egg where it was not a main ingredient such as cake, cookies, meatloaf, were all safe for him. If eggs were a prominent ingredient, we avoided those foods altogether and still continue to do so. 

Now that my son is eight, his pediatrician has suggested we slowly reintroduce cinnamon and eggs to see if he has a reaction. We tried this recently with cinnamon, and we were befuddled but happy when it caused no reaction. His pediatrician told me it is quite common for children to outgrow these types of allergies over time. We have not yet tried to test his reaction to eggs. However we may do this eventually, with the guidance of his pediatrician.

We continue to be vigilant about checking food labels, and we always use caution while dining out. Thankfully, we have never had to experience another severe reaction again in his almost nine years of life. 

You may be asking yourself, “How much do I know about allergies, particularly when it comes to food?” Below is some helpful information that might prepare you for what to expect regarding severe reactions caused by food allergies.

What are the most common foods that cause allergies in children?

  • Peanuts
  • Cow’s milk
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Tree Nuts
  • Shellfish
  • Soy
  • Wheat

What are the most common symptoms of allergies in children?

  • Belly Ache
  • Cough
  • Diarrhea
  • Fainting
  • Hives or rash
  • Nausea/Vomiting
  • Red rash around the mouth
  • Stuffy nose
  • Swelling of the face/legs/arms
  • Tightness of the throat
  • Breathing troubles/Wheezing

Severe allergies create a more serious reaction, and can even become life threatening. 

What signs should I look for in the event of a serious, life threatening allergic reaction?

  • Extreme Trouble Breathing
  • Sharp Drop in Blood Pressure
  • Pale/Clammy skin
  • Dizziness

These are signs of shock, also known as: anaphylaxis shock. If you notice these signs, seek medical help immediately. 

Can children outgrow a food allergy?

There may be hope on the horizon for your child, depending on which food(s) they are allergic to. According to the Mayo Clinic, by the time they reach the age of 16, approximately 60-80% of children with an allergy to eggs or cow’s milk will be able to consume these foods without a reaction. Their study suggests that if a child can consume a food that contains the allergen in baked form, such as a cookie, without an allergic reaction, they are more likely to be able to safely tolerate a plain egg or glass of milk in the future. This gives me some reassurance that my son may too be able to outgrow and conquer his allergy to eggs. 

This same study also suggests that there are certain foods that may cause allergies for which your child is much less likely to outgrow. These common allergens include crustacea, finned fish, tree nuts, and peanuts. Only about 20% of children may outgrow a peanut allergy, while only 14% may lose their allergy to tree nuts. The outlook for children with allergies to fish or shellfish are even less likely, at 4-5%.

In sharing this story, I am hope I have provided knowledge and support to mothers and parents that may go through a similar experience. The more informed you are, the better prepared you may be in the event that your child too, suffers from food allergies. Keep in mind that every child is different. Although my child has outgrown one of his food allergies, this is not always the case. If you do plan to reintroduce your child to a food they’ve been allergic to, make sure to do so in coordination with your pediatrician.

About Christie Collbran

Christie believes in helping women recognize their own inner wisdom, strength and power. Having served as President of the Tampa Bay Birth Network for six years and with ten years serving families as a birth doula, she has a reputation for leadership, dedication and compassion. A childbirth educator, certified lactation counselor as well as a certified doula, she makes a point of ensuring mothers and their partners understand all their birthing options and what to expect on their journey.> keep reading