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Dietary allergies and intolerances can have significant impacts on children’s health and well-being. Allergies involve the immune system’s response to a particular food, often resulting in symptoms like hives, swelling, difficulty breathing, or even anaphylaxis, which is a severe, life-threatening reaction. Intolerances, on the other hand, typically involve digestive issues and are not immune-mediated. Symptoms may include bloating, diarrhoea, or stomach pain. The most common food allergens in children include cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish. These allergens can elicit a range of reactions, from mild to severe.

Some common food allergens in children (Credit: UT Southwestern Medical Center)

Food allergies and intolerances can impact a child’s daily life in various ways, including social situations (such as birthday parties or school events), travel, and dining out. Careful planning and communication with others can help mitigate risks and ensure the child’s safety. Dealing with food allergies or intolerances can also have psychological effects on children, including anxiety, stress, or feelings of isolation. Providing emotional support and helping children develop coping strategies are essential aspects of their care.

Accurate diagnosis of food allergies and intolerances is crucial. This often involves a combination of medical history, physical examination, allergy testing and sometimes oral food challenges under medical supervision. Some children may outgrow their food allergies over time, particularly allergies to milk, eggs, wheat, and soy. Regular follow-up with an allergist is important to monitor for changes in allergy status.

Managing dietary allergies and intolerances in young children can be challenging, but with proper planning and care, it’s possible. Managing food allergies and intolerances involves strict avoidance of the offending food(s). For severe allergies, children may need to carry certain medications in case of accidental exposure. Additionally, family members, schools, and other caregivers should be educated about the child’s allergies and how to respond in emergencies. Here are some steps to help manage dietary allergies and intolerances in young children:

  • Identify the allergens: Determine which foods your child is allergic or intolerant to.
  • Read food labels carefully: Be diligent about reading ingredient labels to avoid foods that contain allergens or intolerances. Look for hidden sources of allergens and learn alternative names for common allergens.
  • Plan meals and snacks: Plan meals and snacks that are free from allergens or intolerances. Be creative with alternative ingredients to ensure your child still enjoys a balanced diet.
  • Communicate with caregivers: If your child attends daycare or school, communicate with caregivers about your child’s dietary needs. Provide them with a list of safe foods and snacks, and educate them about the importance of avoiding cross-contamination.
  • Teach your child about their allergies: As your child gets older, teach them about their allergies or intolerances and how to recognize foods that may contain them. Encourage them to speak up and ask questions when they’re unsure about a food’s ingredients.
  • Be prepared for emergencies: Always have an emergency plan in place in case your child accidentally consumes a triggering food. Keep emergency medication for severe allergies, readily available.

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