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Top 7 Food Allergies in Children

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Updated June 15, 2007

Allergy to egg, milk, soy, wheat, peanut and tree nuts represents 90% of all food allergies in children. Fish and shellfish are two other commonly seen food allergies, usually more common in adults. Each of these individual foods is discussed, including the prevalence, severity and potential outgrowth of the food allergy.

1. Milk

Allergy to cow’s milk is common in children, affecting about 2.5 percent of all infants. These children tend to also react to other milks, such as goat and sheep milk. The allergy is usually directed against one or both major milk proteins, casein and whey. The sugar in milk, lactose, does not cause allergy, but can cause food intolerance.

While 85% of children will outgrow milk allergy by age 5, being allergic to milk is a risk factor for developing other food allergies, as well as nasal allergies. Up to 10% of cow's milk allergic children will be allergic to beef.

Find out how to follow a milk-free diet.

2. Egg

Allergy to egg is the most common food allergy in children, affecting about 2.5 percent of young children. Children may be allergic to the white, yolk, or both. Many will outgrow the egg allergy by age 5, although these children are at increased risk of developing nasal allergies and asthma.

The influenza vaccine is the only routine immunization which should not be given to egg allergic children. The MMR vaccine, which was once was a concern in egg-allergic children, does not require any special procedures and typically can safely be given to children with egg allergy.

Find out how to follow a egg-free diet.

3. Soy

Soy is a legume, and related to peanut, although cross-reactivity rarely exists between the two. Allergy to soy affects approximately 0.3 percent of children, is usually outgrown at a young age, and rarely causes life-threatening reactions. Because soy is a common food allergy, and can occur in children also allergic to milk, infant formulas using hydrolyzed proteins are preferred in infants allergic to cow’s milk.

Find out how to follow a soy-free diet.

4. Wheat

Children and adults can experience a variety of immunologic reactions to wheat protein, only some of which are allergic. Wheat allergy is commonly outgrown at an early age, and it is rare for children with wheat allergy to be clinically allergic to other cereal grains (such as rice, oat and barley), although skin testing to these other grains may be positive.

Find out how to follow a wheat-free diet.

5. Peanut

Allergy to peanut occurs in approximately 0.6 percent of all people, and tends to cause a severe form of food allergy. Peanut allergy can be associated with life-threatening allergic reactions, particularly in children with asthma. Only about 20 percent of children outgrow peanut allergy, making it the most common food allergy seen in adults.

Accidental exposure to peanut containing foods is a common problem, so it is important for peanut allergic children to follow a strict peanut-free diet, wear a medical alert bracelet and always have injectable epinephrine available.

Find out how to follow a peanut-free diet.

6. Tree Nut

Tree nut allergy occurs in approximately 0.5 percent of all people, tends to be severe and is less likely to be outgrown. There is a high likelihood that if a child is allergic to one type of tree nut, he or she will be allergic to another type of tree nut. While tree nuts and peanuts are unrelated foods, cross-contamination is a concern, so some experts recommend a complete “nut free” diet in children with either peanut or tree nut allergy.

Find out how to follow a tree nut-free diet.

7. Seafood

Allergy to seafood includes both fish and shellfish. While fish and shellfish are not related foods, these foods are usually found in the same place (restaurants). Reactions to seafood can be severe and potentially life-threatening. Allergy to either of these foods is less likely to be outgrown, and therefore is commonly seen in adults.

Since patients with allergy to one shellfish are at a high risk of being allergic to other shellfish, complete avoidance of this category of foods is advised. The same is true for allergy to fish; however, exceptions exist for both.

Find out how to follow a shellfish-free diet.

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