Common Food Allergies

In adults, the most common foods to cause allergic reactions include: shellfish such as shrimp, crayfish, lobster, and crab; peanuts, a legume that is one of the chief foods to cause severe anaphylaxis, a sudden drop in blood pressure that can be fatal if not treated quickly; tree nuts such as walnuts; fish; and eggs.

In children, the pattern is somewhat different. The most common food allergens that cause problems in children are eggs, milk, and peanuts. Adults usually do not lose their allergies, but children can sometimes outgrow them. Children are more likely to outgrow allergies to milk or soy than allergies to peanuts, fish, or shrimp.

The foods that adults or children react to are those foods they eat often. In Japan, for example, rice allergy is more frequent. In Scandinavia, codfish allergy is more common.
Allergies in Infants and Children

Milk and soy allergies are particularly common in infants and young children. These allergies sometimes do not involve hives and asthma, but rather lead to colic, and perhaps blood in the stool or poor growth.

Infants and children are thought to be particularly susceptible to this allergic syndrome because of the immaturity of their immune and digestive systems.

Milk or soy allergies in infants can develop within days to months of birth. Sometimes there is a family history of allergies or feeding problems. The clinical picture is one of a very unhappy colicky child who may not sleep well at night. The doctor diagnoses food allergy partly by changing the child’s diet.

Rarely, food challenge is used.

If the baby is on cow’s milk, the doctor may suggest a change to soy formula or exclusive breast milk, if possible. If soy formula causes an allergic reaction, the baby may be placed on an elemental formula. These formulas are processed proteins (basically sugars and amino acids).

There are few if any allergens within these materials. The doctor will sometimes prescribe corticosteroids to treat infants with severe food allergies. Fortunately, time usually heals this particular gastrointestinal disease. It tends to resolve within the first few years of life.

Exclusive breast feeding (excluding all other foods) of infants for the first 6 to 12 months of life is often suggested to avoid milk or soy allergies from developing within that time frame. Such breast feeding often allows parents to avoid infant-feeding problems, especially if the parents are allergic (and the infant therefore is likely to be allergic).

There are some children who are so sensitive to a certain food, however, that if the food is eaten by the mother, sufficient quantities enter the breast milk to cause a food reaction in the child.

Mothers sometimes must themselves avoid eating those foods to which the baby is allergic.

There is no conclusive evidence that breast feeding prevents the development of allergies later in life. It does, however, delay the onset of food allergies by delaying the infant’s exposure to those foods that can prompt allergies, and it may avoid altogether those feeding problems seen in infants.

By delaying the introduction of solid foods until the infant is 6 months old or older, parents can also prolong the child’s allergy-free period.

Reprinted from National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
National Institutes of Health
Date Published: January 1999
Date Reviewed: November 16, 1999 


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