About 8 percent of young children have food allergies.
Stormi Webster, the 16-month-old daughter of Keeping Up with the Kardashians star Kylie Jenner, recently had to visit the hospital for an allergic reaction.
Jenner hasn’t disclosed details on the specific allergen that warranted the visit, but according to People, one source said the incident was food related.
The 21-year-old mother said her daughter is well and they were seeking a follow-up visit with her pediatrician.
The incident has highlighted a concern many parents have: How can you protect your infant from a severe allergic reaction?
“Allergic conditions are the most common health issues affecting children in the U.S.,” noted Kenneth Mendez, president and CEO of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).
The most common triggers for anaphylaxis — a life-threatening reaction — are medicines, foods, and insect stings. Medicines cause the most allergy-related deaths, the AAFA reports.
In addition to food and medication allergies, Mendez said that 8.4 percent of children are diagnosed with hay fever.
Food allergies are common in children. The most popular allergies are to milk, eggs, soy, wheat, tree nuts, peanuts, fish, and shellfish.
Those account for 90 percent of food reactions in all children. Kids can also be allergic to environmental allergens such as tree pollen, mold, perfume, cigarette smoke, pets, and insect stings, among other things.
“Parents need to be able to recognize an allergic reaction to a food so they can seek help,” said Dr. Aikaterini Anagnostou, an associate professor of pediatric allergy at Baylor College of Medicine and associate director of the food allergy program at Texas Children’s Hospital.
Food allergies affect up to 8 percent of children, according to a 2018 survey in Pediatrics.
The study found that 20 percent of children with a food allergy required hospital care during the past year for a life-threatening reaction to food, and 42 percent said their food allergy had caused at least one previous emergency department visit.
At the time of the survey, 40 percent of the children with food allergies had a prescription for an epinephrine auto-injector, which can prevent fatal reactions.
Food allergies are more common in infants and toddlers, and often can be linked to a history of eczema, said Dr. Stacey Galowitz, an allergy specialist from New Jersey.
Children under age 2 rarely exhibit outdoor pollen allergies because they haven’t had exposure to make sufficient antibodies to the allergen.
If they have environmental allergies before they’re 2, it’s likely from indoor allergens such as pet dander or dust mites.
Anagnostou said the majority of children grow out of egg, milk, soy, and wheat allergies.
“Peanut, tree nut allergies, and fish or shellfish allergies are more persistent and unlikely to be outgrown,” Anagnostou said.
Technically, there’s no cure for allergies, though they can be managed with avoidance and treatment, the AAFA reports. However, parents need to remember that symptoms can reemerge at any time.
Anagnostou said recent research showed introducing peanuts to infants between 4 and 11 months of age may prevent a peanut allergy. But that’s not advised if you know your infant is already allergic to peanuts, she explained.
“Early introduction of food allergens is generally encouraged. For those at high-risk who need testing, this can happen at any age, including during the first year of life,” she added.
Galowitz noted that introducing eggs between 4 and 6 months has also proven effective. It’s especially important for children with eczema, as they’re at higher risk of being sensitized to these allergens through the breaks in their skin.
Children with eczema are more likely to develop a true food allergy if they avoid early introduction. The data isn’t clear on if eating certain foods while pregnant can impact outcomes in infancy or early childhood.
“We believe there are windows of time that are more ideal for the immune system to see and properly process highly-allergenic proteins, and delaying introduction misses these crucial windows,” Galowitz said.
The biggest misconception about food allergies is that infants and toddlers can’t be tested for them, Anagnostou said.
Parents should know that the allergy they may have will not automatically be passed down to their children.
“Specific allergies are not something that is genetically passed down, though the tendency to be an allergic person overall does have a genetic basis,” Galowitz said.
Allergies are different from an intolerance but many people confuse the two, Mendez noted.
Food allergies cause an immune system response and can produce symptoms that are uncomfortable or life-threatening.
An intolerance doesn’t impact the immune system but some of the symptoms of a food intolerance can be the same as an allergic reaction.
Symptoms of a true allergic reaction usually involve more than one organ system such as the skin or mouth, the lungs, the heart, and the gut. Some symptoms include:
- skin rashes, itching, or hives
- swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat
- shortness of breath, trouble breathing, or wheezing (whistling sound during breathing)
- dizziness or fainting
- stomach pain, bloating, vomiting, or diarrhea
- uterine cramps
- feeling like something awful is about to happen
Environmental allergies usually present with symptoms like sneezing, itchy or bloody nose, runny nose, or itchy eyes. Testing by an allergist can reveal the specific triggers, such as grass or tree pollen, Anagnostou said.
If you suspect your child has an allergy, or know they have one, ask your doctor for a complete list of symptoms and an anaphylaxis action plan, Mendez noted.
Doctors diagnose allergies by reviewing a patient’s medical history and conducting a physical exam. Some patients require an X-ray of the lungs or sinuses.
They also conduct an allergen test, which can involve exposing the skin to an allergen, applying a patch, or taking blood.
“With the rare exception, the only time children should be tested for food allergies is after an allergic reaction,” noted Dr. Gary Soffer, an assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at the Yale School of Medicine.
The tests used have high rates of false positives, Soffer said.
“This often leads to children unnecessarily being labeled as allergic to foods that they may very well be able to tolerate,” he said, adding that he cautions parents to test their children at a board-certified allergist’s office.