Food Allergy in Children

When your child’s immune system reacts to food as if it were something harmful, they have a food allergy.

Remarkable care for kids

  • Collaborative care: Many children with food allergies also have asthma, eczema, allergic rhinitis or other related conditions. Rush has a Pediatric Celiac and Food Sensitivity Clinic where your child can be seen by pediatric gastroenterologists, allergy experts and dietitians for these related issues at the same time.
  • Real-life solutions: At Rush, pediatricians, family medicine doctors and nurses understand the needs of children with food allergies. They can work with you to create a plan for the school nurse,  teachers and childcare providers to follow when your child has unintended exposure to the foods that trigger their allergic reactions.
  • Family-centered care: As part of Rush University Children’s Hospital, health care providers are dedicated to family-centered care. They believe your family should play an integral role in determining the best care plan to address your child’s unique needs and lifestyle.
  • Care close to home: Pediatric gastroenterologists at Rush University Children’s Hospital are available to see patients at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Rush Oak Park Hospital in Oak Park and Rush Copley Medical Center in Aurora.

What are food allergies in children?

Allergic reactions to foods release chemicals that cause food allergy symptoms such as these:

  • Rash or hives
  • Shortness of breath and wheezing
  • Tongue swelling
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Dizziness
  • Low blood pressure

Foods that commonly cause allergies in children include the following:

  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts
  • Wheat
  • Soy
  • Egg
  • Milk
  • Shellfish
  • Fish

Most children grow out of allergies to cow’s milk, soy and wheat, but allergies to tree nuts, peanuts and shellfish usually do not go away. Children with food allergies are also two to four times more likely to have related conditions, such as asthma and other allergies.

Symptoms of food allergies in children

Talk to your child’s primary care provider if you notice these symptoms after your child eats or drinks:

  • Tingling in the mouth
  • Hives
  • Swelling of the eyelids, face, lips or tongue
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting and diarrhea

Having these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean your child has a food allergy. In fact, true food allergies are relatively rare. Food sensitivities — which cause reactions that don’t involve the immune system — are often mistaken for food allergies. Talk to your pediatricianpediatric gastroenterologist or pediatric allergy expert to determine the cause of your child’s symptoms. 

Care for children with food allergies at Rush

Diagnosing a food allergy

The following tests can help your child’s clinician diagnose — or rule out — food allergies in your child:

  • A detailed medical history
  • Percutaneous skin testing: The clinician will place a small amount of the suspected allergen on your child’s skin. They will then gently prick the skin with a needle so the substance seeps under the surface.
  • Oral food challenge: Your child eats small amounts of suspected allergens under medical supervision, typically done in a hospital or at your clinician’s office.

Treatment for food allergies

Avoidance: Once you know what foods cause your child’s allergic reaction, the only treatment is avoiding them.

Preparing for accidental exposure: Your child’s doctor can help you create a plan for what to do in case your child is accidentally exposed. This plan will likely involve carrying a device you can use to inject your child with epinephrine (sometimes called an EpiPen), which can help combat anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction.

Emergency treatment: Your child may need immediate, emergency care if they are accidentally exposed to a food they are allergic to. In this case, you administer the EpiPen if you have one and then call 911 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

Education: Your child’s health care team at Rush will also partner with you to help you work with your child’s school or child care providers to ensure your child is not accidently exposed. Your child’s school and care providers should be advised of your child’s allergy and be equipped and trained with EpiPens as well.