For some children, the presence of a food allergy is obvious. Your child eats a certain food, like a peanut, and immediately he gets itchy, his face swells and he has difficulty breathing. For many other children, however, the signs and symptoms are not so obvious and may not occur immediately after consuming a particular food. It’s also not always easy or possible for a child, especially young toddlers and infants, to tell you what is happening. How can you recognize food allergy symptoms in kids or babies? Learn about the signs and watch for them in your children so you can get a firm diagnosis and start learning about treatment options.
Common Food Allergy Symptoms in Kids
There are four basic categories of food allergy symptoms in kids, which include skin, respiratory, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular:
- Skin symptoms. Food allergens may cause a child to get itchy skin, to develop hives (small red or white bumps), to experience swelling and redness in the lips, tongue, mouth, face or extremities, or to develop eczema, a dry, itchy and flaky rash.
- Respiratory symptoms. Skin symptoms are the most common reactions to food allergens, but respiratory symptoms can be the most serious. Your child may simply get a runny or stuffy nose, or cough or sneeze. A food allergen may also cause wheezing, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing.
- Gastrointestinal. When food allergens affect the gastrointestinal tract they may cause diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, cramping and abdominal pain.
- Cardiovascular. Food allergens can cause a drop in blood pressure, which may lead to dizziness, lightheadedness and fainting.
It’s important to remember that every child is different and may experience a different set of symptoms when exposed to a food allergen. Your child may get hives when she eats fish, or she may get diarrhea after eating wheat. Watch out for any one of these allergy symptoms in kids so that you can take your child to the doctor for testing.
The Most Serious Food Allergy Symptoms in Kids: Anaphylaxis
The most severe reaction to a food allergen a child can experience is called anaphylactic shock, or anaphylaxis. Your child may have milder symptoms that parallel anaphylaxis without the severity, but the symptoms may get worse, so never take these lightly. If you see these symptoms in your child, seek emergency medical attention right away:
- Wheezing and difficulty breathing, similar to an asthma attack
- A tight feeling across the chest
- Swelling in the face, mouth, lips, tongue or airways that restricts breathing
- Noisy breathing, coughing or a change in voice
- Lack of coordination and dizziness
- Lightheadedness or fainting
- A pulse that is weak but also rapid
- Skin reactions, like rashes, hives and itchiness, are also commonly present during anaphylaxis
Recognizing anaphylaxis in infants is particularly challenging. They can’t directly tell you that something is wrong. Look for signs of difficulty breathing, although this is not easy to recognize. Hives and other skin reactions are easier to recognize, but also look for vomiting and difficulty swallowing (which may be obvious as excessive drooling). Lethargy in an infant can also be a sign of the drop in blood pressure that comes with anaphylaxis.
Less Common Food Allergy Symptoms in Kids
In addition to the more common signs of food allergies in children, there are some other symptoms to look out for, which are specific to certain allergens. For instance, when an infant or young toddler is allergic to soy or milk, she may be colicky, have blood in her stool or exhibit slow growth because she is not absorbing all the nutrients from milk or soy-based formula.
Some signs are also less obvious because they are delayed with respect to when your child has eaten a food allergen. These delayed symptoms may include eczema, slow or poor growth, constipation, a lot of distress and crying, frequent vomiting and showing signs of stomach distress. This latter symptom in infants may include your child pulling her knees up to her chest.
Any medical symptoms or discomfort in your child is a reason to visit your pediatrician, but if you think that food allergies may be the culprit, mention it to your doctor. Also, keep track of what your child is eating, when she eats it and what symptoms she has. This can help your doctor make a better diagnosis. Most importantly of all, be aware of your child’s symptoms and well-being and see your doctor if you are worried about any sign of illness or potential allergy.