Friday, November 20, 2009

How are food allergies diagnosed in children?

As I have blogged and spoken and status updated about my son's food allergies, I often hear the same questions over and over again. Aside from "what is he allergic to" and "how did you find out", a few parents wonder if maybe their child has food allergies, and want to know what they should do.

In adults and older children, food allergy is usually diagnosed by a combination of skin testing and food challenge. In younger children and babies, often the symptoms are different and the testing unreliable. Instead of the typical facial swelling, for example, a child is more likely to develop eczema, vomiting, diarrhea, fussiness, difficulty sleeping, or failure to grow properly. All of these symptoms, however, can also be indicators of other illness, so it can be difficult to make a diagnosis. In addition, it is possible to test positive for something which you can eat without a problem, hence the food challenge. A food challenge is difficult to perform on a small child as they can not express themsleves. So where does that leave you?

Well, you have a few options. First you can do elimination testing at home. If you suspect that your child has a food allergy, try eliminating the offending food from his diet. Have no idea what the offending food is? Start with the top allergens and be systematic. If you are breastfeeding, this means that you will also have to eliminate the offending food from your diet. Please ensure that you are replacing the eliminated foods with other foods to ensure adequate nutrition. There is more information about how to do an elimination diet on WebMD. You can also request allergy testing from your pediatrician. The results of the testing and patient history will determine their recommendations about avoidance, elimination, and reintroduction of the suspect foods. Unfortunately, allergy tests can also be wrong the other way, and this can be life threatening. Sometimes, the test results are negative, but the the person has a reaction. If your child breaks out in hives or has an itchy mouth or throat (babies will grab at their faces) after eating, call your Dr. immediately, this could be a serious reaction and may require immediate medical attention. If in doubt call 911. If at any point your child has difficulty breathing, is gasping for air, coughing uncontrollably or you notice swelling of the face or neck, CALL 911.

Please note: The information in this post is not meant to be a substitute for the advice and recommendation of your physician. It is intended for informational purposes only.

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