Frequently Asked Questions by Parents of Children With Multiple Food Allergies
1. What is allergy?
Allergy is an immune system overreaction to a stimulant that is normally harmless. This stimulant is known as an allergen. Allergens may be food or allergens such as grass pollens, house dust mite, wasp or bee stings or penicillin.
Common food allergens are egg, milk, peanut, tree nuts, fish and other seafood, wheat, soya, sesame, other seeds, Kiwi and other fruit. Children grow out of milk and egg allergy, but nut and fish allergy usually persist to adulthood. We are unsure exactly why allergies occur in some people and not others.
2. Is it intolerance or allergy?
The terminology of food intolerance and allergy can be quite confusing. Food allergy involves an immune overreaction to a food and usually occurs within 10 – 15 minutes of touching or eating the relevant food. Food intolerance does not involve the immune system and is less common than food allergy in young children. A good example is lactose intolerance, an inherited inability to digest the sugar lactose which is present in milk, leading to stomach cramps and diarrhoea after drinking milk.
3. How do I know if my child has an allergy – signs of an allergy?
An allergic reaction to a food usually occurs within 10 – 15 minutes of eating the relevant food and can cause:
- A red rash, which may be itchy and can look like insect bites (hives).
- Swelling around the lips.
- Tummy pain, feeling sick, vomiting or diarrhoea.
Severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) to food are rare and cause:
- Difficulty breathing.
- Loss of consciousness.
To find out more about severe allergic reactions please see the anaphylaxis campaign website: http://www.anaphylaxis.org.uk
4. What to do if I think my child has an allergy?
If you are worried your child has a food allergy, you should contact your GP, who may refer your child to a specialist allergy clinic. (See link to NICE food allergy in children guideline under Related Links on this website.)
5. Should I use a DIY allergy testing kit or not?
These are best avoided – there are all kinds of tests that have no scientific validity such as hair analysis, kinesiology, vega testing, IgGG testing. These tests can result in misdiagnosis or continuation of eating the foods which are causing the symptoms.
It is best to contact your GP to arrange for conventional testing with a proven scientific basis, eg skin prick testing or blood specific IgE testing.
6. What happens in an allergy clinic in hospital?
After referral from a GP your child will see an allergy specialist. Here they will ask you to explain everything that has happened and your child may receive a skin prick test or a blood test to see if their immune system reacts to the suspected food allergens. If there is uncertainty about which foods your child is allergic to they may be sent for a graded food challenge where they are given increasing portions of the food to see if they react, in a safe environment where trained staff are on hand with necessary equipment to treat any allergic reaction.
7. What to do if my child has anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction)?
If you think your child is having a severe allergic reaction (difficulty breathing, collapse) you should first give your child their adrenalin auto-injector, (Epipen, Jext) if they have one. Lie them down (do not let them walk about) and call an ambulance.
8. Are allergies genetically linked?
A child’s risk of allergy is increased if there is already allergy in their immediate family, ie a parent or sibling. However where food allergy occurs in more than one family member, it is not always to the same food(s).
9. How many children in the UK are affected by food allergy?
Approximately 8% of infants in the UK have a food allergy, with egg allergy being most common.
10. What is the treatment available for food allergy?
Unfortunately there is no cure for food allergy at the moment, but promising treatments such as desensitisation by ‘oral immunotherapy’ and injections with ‘anti-IgE’ are on the horizon. At the moment there are still in the research phase. The most important components of treatment are:
- Having a clear diagnosis as to which foods can and cannot cause an allergic reaction in your child.
- Good dietary advice about which foods to avoid, how to get around dietary restrictions and ensure your child has a balanced diet.
- Knowing how to treat an allergic reaction in the future – non-sedating antihistamines such as cetirizine are given for a mild allergic reaction, and an adrenaline autoinjector for a severe reaction.
The decision whether to carry an adrenaline autoinjector can be difficult because the likelihood of needing to use one is low. However many families feel reassured to have one available as back-up.
12. Skin prick test video:
A skin prick test is carried out in a GP surgery or hospital It involves using solutions containing extracts of food. These solutions are then put on the skin. The skin beneath each drop is pricked and if there is a small allergic reaction to the prick (a hive), the test is positive and indicative of a possible allergy.
13. Is there someone I can speak to about allergy?
We are currently developing a web-forum that will be accessible from this webpage so watch this space. Otherwise it is best to contact your GP or paediatric allergist.
The relevant patient charities are Allergy UK which has lots of useful background information about allergy on its website * and the Anaphylaxis Campaign * To access these web sites* and other useful web links please either click on the links here or see the ‘Related Links’ section of this website.