Food Allergies in Children

In 2007, about 3 million American kids were reported to have a food allergy, but the number of kids with proven food allergies is actually closer to 2.1 million (the difference in numbers resulting chiefly from parental misdiagnosis) [source: National Center for Health Statistics, Stoppler]. While a lot of kids have allergies, they're usually not too serious; with that 2 million or so kids with allergies, there were fewer than 10,000 emergency-room visits for kids due to food allergies in 2006 [source: NCHS Press Room].

As far as parental misdiagnosis goes, often, food intolerance is mistaken for food allergy. It's an easy mistake to make, since both food intolerance and food allergy often share the same features. For instance, the symptoms of lactose intolerance and milk allergy, two different conditions, can be very similar. The primary (and consistent) difference between food intolerance and food allergy is that food intolerance doesn't prompt the immune system's release of IgE.

Allergic reactions to food share common traits with other allergic reactions: sneezing, wheezing and watery eyes, among others. Kids who have severe allergic reactions may break out in hives, have trouble breathing and require emergency medical care. As scary as this is, the overall number of children dying from food allergies is relatively low: about 150 a year. About 120 of these are caused by allergic reactions to peanuts, which are the food allergen most likely to cause anaphylaxis [source: Schwartz]. Many schools have banned peanut products outright.

Food allergies don't manifest on a child's first introduction to a food (though they often do on the child's first known introduction to the food). So while parents may hover over a small child the first time he or she consumes peanuts, it may be sometime down the road when the allergy presents itself. On the flip side, while some food allergies stick around for the duration of a person's lifetime, other times, they resolve themselves.

Children's food allergies can be frightening for child and parent alike, but proper diagnosis, allergy education and due diligence can lower both the risk and the worry associated with children's food allergies.

Next: Move over, Rover. No, seriously, get out.