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Dealing with Childhood Allergies – Misconceptions Signs and Symptoms

Children’s allergies are on the rise and can be life-threatening. There’s been a great deal of confusion regarding food allergies and intolerances in recent years. The media constantly flogs the subject: newspapers writing up either dramatic stories of life-threatening reactions in children or celebrities touting various allergen-free diets. After cutting through all the hype and the headlines, there’s only one thing that really matters: when your child has a food allergy, it can be scary.

We’re here to clear up some common misconceptions and address things you can do to make sure your child stays safe.

Intolerance vs. Sensitivity vs. Allergy

These terms are often used interchangeably, despite the fact that they are medically quite distinct. For instance, someone who is lactose intolerant has a different set of symptoms than someone who is allergic to dairy.

A food intolerance occurs when your stomach cannot process a certain food properly or the body lacks the enzymes needed to digest it. A food intolerance can cause bloating, headaches, heartburn, gas, general discomfort or irritability, but it isn’t life-threatening.

Individuals with a food intolerance can also usually eat small quantities of the offending substance with little or no symptoms. Over time, this can still have serious consequences. For instance, those who suffer from Celiac disease, or gluten intolerance, can suffer serious long-term side effects from being unable to break down the proteins found in wheat and many other grains.

A true allergic reaction, however, can be triggered by even the tiniest amount of a substance and can induce rashes, hives, difficult breathing, tummy pain, vomiting and in some cases, anaphylactic shock.

Finally, some individuals are sensitive to certain food additives or chemicals, including sulfites (found in wine and preservatives), artificial colorings (particularly Red #40), artificial sweeteners and monosodium glutamate. This is in no way the same as an allergy, and the validity of some of these sensitivity claims is still under debate. If you or your child experience any discomfort after eating such additives you may avoid them to be on the safe side, but know that they do not represent a serious health threat.

Common Allergens

The list of common allergens is unfortunately long and includes quite a few ingredients common in Thai cuisine. Some of the ones to watch out for include:

  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts
  • Shellfish such as lobster, shrimp or crabs
  • Octopus or squid
  • Eggs
  • Cow’s milk and other dairy products
  • Soy

Signs and Symptoms

A severe allergic reaction can often strike with relatively little warning. If you are aware that your child has an allergy, keep an eye out for hives, wheezing or shortness of breath, swelling, itching, cramping tummy with vomiting, nausea, diarrhea or dizziness.

In the most severe cases, the allergy may be strong enough to induce anaphylaxis, which, if not treated swiftly and correctly, can result in a coma or even death. Pay attention if your child feels that there throat is constricting leading to breathing in difficultly or that they cannot swallow properly. Their heart rate may also rise rapidly and their blood pressure may drop with feeling lightheaded or fainting and eventually dead.  If you in any way suspect that this is happening, call an ambulance immediately

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Wasu Kamchaisatian, M.D. Summary: Pediatrics Pediatrics