Food Allergy, Sensitivity, or Just Picky? How to Tell the Difference

Food Allergy, Sensitivity, or Just Picky? How to Tell the Difference

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According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, about 5% of all children worldwide have some kind of food allergy. That figure is up nearly 20% over the last ten years. Life-threatening reactions can occur if kids are exposed to even a trace amount of the triggering food, so it’s important to pay attention to what your child eats and how they react to it.

We’re all familiar with the picky eater who won’t touch certain foods–usually vegetables. But there’s a big difference between a child who turns their nose up at Brussels sprouts and one who has an allergy or sensitivity to foods.

Common Triggers for Food Allergies

The vast majority of food allergies are caused by just eight different types of food:

  • Milk (lactose)
  • Eggs
  • Wheat
  • Soy
  • Tree Nuts
  • Peanuts
  • Fish
  • Shellfish

A sesame allergy is less common, but no less serious. Kids may also have food sensitivities that make it difficult for their bodies to process gluten, sulfites, caffeine, FODMAPS, and other compounds found in foods. While allergies can cause immediate and life-threatening reactions, including anaphylactic shock, intolerances may cause long-term digestive problems, headaches, and other symptoms.

The only way to know for sure whether your child has an allergy or sensitivity is through a test performed in a doctor’s office. However, if you notice that your child complains of numbness or tingling in their mouth after taking a bite, that’s a serious red flag.

Rashes, hives, and trouble breathing are also warning signs that something is not right. Even a very small amount of the triggering food can cause these reactions, which require urgent medical attention.

Nausea, bloating, gas, or diarrhea could be a sign of a food sensitivity–or it could be a stomach bug. If you notice a pattern of illness every time the family eats a certain meal, it’s worth talking about with your doctor.

It’s Not Like When You Were a Kid

No one knows why allergies on the rise across developed nations, but it’s a scientific fact that they are more common–and often more serious–than they were just a few generations ago. It’s easy to dismiss precautions such as the banning of peanut butter sandwiches from school cafeterias as an overreaction. After all, you grew up with peanuts and milk in the house, and you’re fine!

While restaurants and food manufacturers are more aware of the importance of labeling allergens, the burden falls on you to ensure that your child avoids exposure. Younger kids don’t have the capacity to advocate for their health. Older kids can learn about their allergy and how to ask the right questions when ordering food.

Some children may outgrow their allergies, while others will have to remain vigilant for the rest of their lives. Regardless, it’s essential to talk to everyone in your household, your extended family, and the families of your child’s friends about their allergy. Make sure that everyone understands the seriousness of keeping all traces of the triggering food far from your child.