How to Recognise Food Allergies in Your Child
With babies and non-verbal children, it can be hard to pinpoint what’s causing their distress when they are unwell. However, if you notice they become ill after eating, drinking, or breastfeeding, it could be that they’re suffering from a food allergy or intolerance.
Learn to spot the cues of intolerances or food allergy symptoms in your child with this guide.
Common Food Allergies in Children
When starting your baby on solids, only give them small amounts of the following foods as they are common causes of food allergies in children:1
- Gluten (wheat)
- Seafood and shellfish
If your child suffers a reaction while eating, remove the food and seek medical advice.
Allergic Reactions in Children: Symptoms & Cues
Physical Food Allergy Symptoms in Children
Common physical symptoms of mild food allergies in children include:2
- Coughing and wheezing
- Runny nose
- Sore eyes (redness and/or persistent rubbing due to itchiness)
- Swollen lips, mouth, or eyes
Non-verbal Cues for Pain in Children
Sometimes, even if there are no physical symptoms of an allergy present, your child might display non-verbal cues that their stomach is hurting them or they are in pain, which could be related to a food allergy or intolerance.
The FLACC scale can be used to assess a child’s facial expressions, cries, activity levels, and behaviour – these cues can demonstrate that a child is in pain even if they can’t or don’t tell you. If your child displays any of these behaviours, they may be in pain:3
- Face: grimacing, persistent frowning, disinterest, clenched jaw, quivering chin
- Legs: restless, tensed, kicking, or legs drawn up to their stomach
- Activity: frequent squirming, arched back, rigidity, jerking
- Cry: moans, whimpers, occasional or frequent complaints, crying, sobbing, screaming
- Consolability: difficult to comfort or console
Symptoms of Anaphylaxis
It’s vital to call for an ambulance if you suspect your child is going into anaphylactic shock (severe allergic reaction), as anaphylaxis is life-threatening. If you recognise any of these signs in your child after eating an allergy-causing food, get immediate medical help:4
- Shortness of breath
- Wheezing and coughing
- Trouble swallowing
- Throat closing
- Tongue swelling
- Hives and rashes
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stomach cramps and diarrhoea
- Dizziness and confusion
- Sudden changes in behaviour and irritability
Remember, a peanut allergy, wheat allergy, and lactose intolerance in babies are all fairly common conditions. When giving your child a meal containing these foods, ensure it’s in small doses and you watch your child during and after the meal to look for the above signs and act quickly if a reaction occurs.
How Can I Know if My Child is Having an Anaphylactic Reaction?
It can be hard to tell whether an allergic reaction in a baby, toddler or non-verbal child is mild or if it will progress to anaphylactic shock. It’s always best to err on the side of caution – if it is their first allergic reaction, get fast medical advice from your doctor. If they become unresponsive, have trouble breathing, or break out in hives, call for an ambulance.
If you have been given an adrenaline auto-injector for your child due to past anaphylaxis, it’s better to administer it when there is a false alarm rather than wait until you’re sure your child is having severe anaphylactic shock.5
Treatments for Children’s Food Allergies
There are two main types of treatment for allergic reactions depending on their severity – antihistamines and adrenaline.5
Antihistamines work to relieve the symptoms of mild to moderate allergic reactions. They block the compound histamine which is responsible for causing mild reactions to an allergen, such as sore eyes, a runny nose, itchy skin, etc.
They are available over the counter from pharmacies, so it’s good to stock up on a child-friendly antihistamine when giving your baby new foods in case of a mild allergic reaction. Piriton Syrup is suitable for children aged 12 months and over – consult your pharmacist or doctor when looking for an antihistamine for younger children.
Adrenaline is administered via injection when someone is having an anaphylactic reaction. It narrows the blood vessels to counteract low blood pressure and helps to open the airways when breathing difficulties occur. In extreme cases anaphylaxis can be fatal, so if you suspect a severe allergic reaction in your child, always call an ambulance.
You will be given an adrenaline injector such as an EpiPen if your child goes into anaphylactic shock from a food allergy and taught how to administer it yourself if an episode happens again.
Be especially careful when checking for signs of a peanut allergy in your baby, as peanuts and other tree nuts (pistachios, cashews, Brazil nuts, etc.) are a leading cause of anaphylaxis.
- NHS. Food allergies in babies and young children. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/baby/weaning-and-feeding/food-allergies-in-babies-and-young-children/. Accessed 09/02/2022.
- ACAAI. Children. https://acaai.org/allergies/allergies-101/who-gets-allergies/children/. Accessed 09/02/2022.
- The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne. Assessing pain in children. https://www.rch.org.au/uploadedFiles
/Main/Content/anaes/Pain_assessment.pdf. Accessed 09/02/2022.
- Drugs.com. Anaphylaxis in Children. https://www.drugs.com/cg/anaphylaxis-in-children.html. Accessed 09/02/2022.
- NHS. Treatment – Food allergy. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/food-allergy/treatment/. Accessed 09/02/2022.