Food Allergy Testing For Kids

May 6, 2015
Food Allergy | Physician One

Over the past 20 years, the number of kids with diagnosed food allergies has increased by nearly 50 percent. While scientists point toward a number of theories, no one knows the exact reasons. Unfortunately, many food allergies come on without warning. That said, you can better prepare and cope with an unexpected reaction by understanding a few key points.
What are the most common food allergies?
Until a child reaches the age of 5 or 6, wheat, egg, cow's milk and soy are the most common culprits. In older kids, it's generally fish, tree nuts, peanuts and shellfish.
What are the most common symptoms?
Food allergies usually provoke an immune response resulting in hives and/or swelling of the face or extremities. These symptoms usually begin within minutes of consumption and persist no longer than two to three hours. In some cases, however, children may also experience vomiting, diarrhea, breathing difficulties, loss of blood pressure and unconsciousness. These extreme reactions require prompt medical attention, since they could be a sign of a deadly anaphylactic reaction.
What types of allergy testing are available?
Oral food challenges are the gold standard test to diagnose food allergies. With this method, a child is given very small amounts of a specific food in increasing doses under close medical supervision. Skin prick tests are also available. With these tests, a child receives a small amount of an allergen at the surface of the skin. If a hive develops within 15 minutes, it's usually a sign of a food allergy. Physicians may also test for blood IgE levels which demonstrate antibodies for a specific food. That said both skin prick and blood IgE tests do tend to have high false positive rates, so they aren't always a preferred option for many patients.
Is food intolerance the same as an allergy?
Food intolerances are unlike allergies, because they do not involve the immune system. They also tend to result in vague, chronic complaints, such as headaches, fatigue, gastrointestinal problems, bloating, cramping and muscle soreness. In this instance, the body has difficulty digesting and processing a certain food correctly. Unfortunately, there are no validated or standardized tests for food sensitivities; however, patients can use food diaries to identify potential culprits.
Should I use a food elimination diet?
Talk to your child's pediatrician or allergist before considering any elimination diet, since these can cause health problems and nutritional deficiencies.

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