"Food allergies and sensitivities in children are on the rise, but the good news is there is plenty you can do to help prevent and manage them", says pediatric nutritionist Mandy Sacher.

Recent studies show that food allergies and sensitivities occur in around 1 in 20 children, with hospital admissions for severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) doubling over the last decade in Australia, the USA and UK. While many food allergies in children are not severe, and may be outgrown with time, some are less likely to be outgrown and may end up being lifelong allergies, such as peanut, tree nut, seed and seafood allergies.

Why Do Allergies Occur?

Allergies occur when the body overreacts to an allergen or ‘trigger’ that is typically harmless to most people. Around one person in four is allergic to something and around half of all allergy sufferers are children. The symptoms of an allergy range from mild to severe. The most severe type of allergic reaction is anaphylaxis, which can be fatal if prompt medical attention is not sought. However, in most cases, effective treatments are available to manage or treat allergy symptoms. 

What Are The Symptoms?

Common signs that your child may have an allergy include sneezing; a runny nose; red, watery, itchy eyes; wheezing, coughing and problems breathing; headaches; skin rashes; and tummy pains, vomiting and diarrhea. Food allergies, in particular, are often associated with hives or a swelling around the mouth, which usually happens within 30 minutes of ingesting a food the child is allergic to. If you are concerned that your child may have an allergy, see your local GP or healthcare provider such as a dietitian. Common testing for food allergies include skin prick allergy tests using food extracts or blood tests. Certain foods may also be eliminated from the diet to confirm an allergy.

Why Are Allergies On The Rise?

There are a few different reasons why allergies are on the increase; the ‘hygiene hypothesis’ which suggests that less exposure to infections is linked to an increased risk of allergy; delayed introduction of allergenic foods; and some methods of food processing.  

How Can We Avoid Or Manage Allergies?

  • Take probiotics regularly – From pregnancy onwards if possible. Kefir, yogurt, and kombucha are good sources of probiotics, or you can also use supplements.
  • Ensure you meet your RDI of Omega-3s and vitamin D - Omega-3s are found in oily fish such as wild salmon, sardines and mackerel, as well as grass fed beef, flaxseeds and walnuts. Oily fish, cod liver oil and eggs are all good sources of vitamin D – not to mention a little sunshine!
  • Avoid processed and sugary foods - This is especially important, as is avoiding foods containing preservatives 280-282 and sulphites, which can also give rise to and exacerbate allergies. Try to avoid packaged foods and aim to follow a whole food diet as much as possible. 
  • Eat a wide range of foods - Introducing variety into your diet is good for everyone in the family and keeps things interesting! And if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. It can take up to 16 times for a child to “like” or accept a new taste, so stay positive, stay calm and keep offering new foods.

My Child Is Allergic To Dairy. How Can I Ensure They Get Enough Calcium? 

If your child has a dairy allergy, your main concern is ensuring that they meet their calcium needs. Good non-dairy sources of calcium include fortified organic and unsweetened soy, rice or almond milk; oily fish such as sardines and salmon (canned, with bones); and dark green, leafy vegetables such as bok choy. Speak with your GP, pediatric dietitian or healthcare provider to discuss your child’s needs and make a plan.

What Steps Have You Taken To Manage Your Child's Allergies?