Because living with food allergies presents so many challenges, all parents dream that one day their children will outgrow them. To not have to worry about severe reactions, to be able to eat anything and to no longer need to analyze everything and read labels three times just to be sure would be wonderful. So is it possible? Can a child outgrow food allergies? The answer is a hopeful yes for some kids, but dashed hopes for others.
Outgrowing Allergies Depends on Type, Severity and Race
According to surveys with thousands of respondents, about 8 percent of all U.S. children have one or more food allergies. The “big eight” allergens are the most common types of food allergies: milk, eggs, soy, wheat, fish, shellfish, peanuts and tree nuts. According to the most recent research on outgrowing allergies, a study found that overall, 26.6 percent of all children outgrow their allergies. The average age at which the allergy disappears is about 5.5 years.
Unfortunately, that number means that nearly three-quarters of kids will not outgrow food allergies. Allergies most likely to be outgrown are milk, egg and soy. As many as 80 percent of kids with milk and egg allergies are free from allergic reactions by the age of 16, and some may even be able to eat these allergens in baked goods and other cooked forms before 16.
Shellfish, tree nut and peanut allergies are less likely to disappear with age. More specifically, about 20 percent of kids with a peanut allergy will outgrow it, while 14 percent of kids with a tree nut allergy will outgrow it. Only 4 to 5 percent of kids allergic to shellfish will eventually be able to live without that allergy.
In addition to type of allergen, other factors seem to contribute to the likelihood a child will outgrow food allergies. For instance, the earlier a child experiences her first allergic reaction, the more likely she is to outgrow that allergy. Less likely to outgrow their allergies are kids with multiple allergies and severe reactions. The study also found that African American children are less likely to outgrow them and that boys are more likely than girls to eventually be free of their food allergies.
What to Do if You Think Your Child Has Outgrown an Allergen
These most recent findings are informative and interesting. They give you, as a parent, a better idea of what kinds of odds your child faces of having to live with allergies into adulthood or being able to grow out of them by the teenage years. What the research doesn’t tell, us though, is why the studies show these particular patterns: why peanut and shellfish allergies persist, why African American children are more vulnerable and why severe reactions indicate a greater risk of having allergies into adulthood is still a mystery.
You can’t get a definite answer, then, as to whether or not your child will outgrow food allergies, but you can listen to the experts about what to do if you think he has. The most important thing you can do is to keep seeing your child’s doctor or allergist regularly. If you think he has outgrown an allergy, don’t test it without your doctor’s guidance. Your doctor or allergist can perform blood tests and skin allergy tests to determine if your suspicions are correct. He or she can also help you give your child a food challenge, which involves giving him small amounts of an allergen in a controlled environment to see if he has a reaction.
It is important to be particularly vigilant if your child has ever had anaphylaxis, the severe and life-threatening reaction to an allergen. Even if you and your doctor think your child has likely outgrown an allergy, if he has ever had this severe reaction, you are right to be cautious until you are absolutely certain.