Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Spotting Food Sensitivities in Children
While true food allergies, such as peanut or shellfish allergies, are hard to miss owing to their severe symptoms (hives, swelling of the face, trouble breathing), food sensitivities are much more difficult to spot. When my youngest son was a tiny infant, he developed a terrible, weeping rash all over his little face. It started as little red bumps, then became yellow and crusty, and within a day was so wet that his face was sticking to his sheets when he slept. We thought it was pretty obvious that he had some kind of contact allergy, maybe to detergent or something like that. Several trips to the doctor later, however, we found a pediatrician who knew right away that our little munchkin had food sensitivities, and his rash was in fact eczema.
Food sensitivity (or intolerence) is different from food allergy. With a food allergy, the body's immune system views the problem food as an invader, and acts immediately to flush it out. Food sensitivity, on the other hand, occurs when the body is unable to process a certain food. The symptoms here are delayed, and can occur over hours, days or even weeks. The protein in these foods cannot be broken down properly, and large particles can rupture the intestinal lining, allowing bits of food (foreign bodies) into the rest of the gut.
Symptoms can be gastrointestinal, like stomach ache, heartburn, nausea, constipation or diarrhea, but can also be surprisingly non-gastro, like headache, fatigue, irritability, rashes, nasal congestion, asthma, and even acne.
As you can imagine, it is easy for food sensitivities to be mis-diagnosed, as the symptoms can easily point to other, more common ailments as well. The best way to test whether your child is having a reaction to a food is to eliminate it for at least a week (two or three is better, as some foods are very slow to leave the body). Then, allow your child to eat a significant amount of the suspected food (but only if you are certain that you are dealing with an intolerance, not an allergy, as you don't want to put your child in danger of anaphylaxis.) Chances are, you will see several strong symptoms come roaring back, possibly even ones you hadn't ever tied to food. Weird bumps, itches, or peeling skin? Flushed cheeks? Bad behavior? You'd be surprised how many little quirks are actually caused by food!
For additional information, here's an interesting article: 8 Ways To Tell If Your Child Has Serious Allergies.
Labels: Life with Food Allergies