Pediatric Food Allergies
Food allergies occur when the immune system reacts against protein molecules in foods to trigger inflammation. These are different from food sensitivities where there is no allergic inflammation.
If your child has a food allergy causing a problem with their gastrointestinal tract (GI tract), their symptoms will depend on which part of their GI tract is becoming inflamed and which type of allergy they have. Infants may present with blood in their stools or poor weight gain. Older children can have belly pain or difficulties swallowing or diarrhea. The symptoms of chronic food allergies can resemble other problems which will require testing.
Food allergies are caused by protein molecules in foods, which trigger inflammation in the body. Some children with food allergies have other allergic “atopic” conditions such as eczema or asthma. Many children with food allergies have family members with allergies as well. The top food allergens are dairy, wheat, egg, soy, nuts, and fish, but there are many other foods which could potentially be allergenic.
After asking many questions and doing an exam, we may order some blood tests. To really know if a child’s GI tract has allergic inflammation, esophagogastroduodenoscopy and colonoscopy are necessary. These tests will be able to confirm whether certain types of allergy-related cells are found in relatively high numbers within the lining of the GI tract.
Determining which foods are triggering the inflammation and then removing those are key. Some children may need to follow strict elimination diets, where more than one food is removed initially, but possibly re-introduced later. These types of diets can be cumbersome, and should not be done without the proper guidance of our doctors or a dietician to ensure that no nutrient deficiencies develop. Some children with more extensive food allergies affecting their GI tract may require anti-inflammatory medications.