Does my child have a food allergy?

Worried about child food allergies? Here’s how to keep calm & carry on


Rashes, snuffles and tummy aches are common ailments in children. But as well as being the result of a common bug, they can also be symptoms of child food allergies or intolerances. But how do you know which is which? Allergies in children can be scary, so getting the right diagnosis from your GP can help you get to grips with the issue and give your little one the correct care. Thankfully Boots nutritionist Vicky Pennington is here to help.

What are the symptoms of a food allergy?

The most common symptoms of an allergic reaction to food include:

• skin rashes

• red, itchy, watering eyes

• an itchy, runny or blocked nose

• sneezing

• an itchy throat and tongue

• diarrhea or vomiting

Occasionally, a severe reaction can make the lips and throat swell, causing breathing difficulties and lightheadedness. This is known as anaphylaxis and requires urgent medical treatment.

Which foods are most likely to cause allergies?

New allergens are being recognized all the time, but the most common ones include peanuts, tree nuts like walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts, fish, shellfish, eggs, and cows’ milk.

How common are allergies among children?

Around five to eight percent of children in the UK suffer from food allergy. It’s easy to be paranoid, but allergies are not the norm. And it’s also worth remembering that even if they have an allergy to food when they're a baby, some children grow out of them.

What should I do if my child has an allergic reaction?

If your child has breathing difficulties, feels sick or dizzy, has swollen lips, or isn’t responsive, call 999 immediately. If the reaction is mild and doesn’t need urgent medical attention, antihistamines may help relieve symptoms, but make an appointment to see your GP, as it’s important that suspected allergies are professionally diagnosed, evaluated and treated.

Are all allergies life-threatening?

No. Although it’s easy to be scared by things we hear in the news; these are the extreme cases. Only a tiny percentage of allergic reactions require urgent medical treatment, although it’s always worth talking to your GP if you have any concerns.

At what age are children most likely to develop an allergy?

Food allergies can show up at any age but usually occur after your child reaches six months, once you start introducing them to a wider range of foods.

Does that mean I shouldn’t let my child eat certain foods until they're older?

No. In fact, evidence suggests that avoiding things like eggs and nuts in early childhood may increase the likelihood of allergies. If there isn’t a strong family history of allergies, your baby can eat most foods from six months. Introduce them carefully in small amounts, one at a time, so that you can spot any reaction. And make sure nuts are properly ground or crushed to avoid choking.

How can I tell the difference between an allergy & intolerance?

An allergic reaction involves the immune system and usually comes on very quickly. It happens when the body mistakenly treats a substance as harmful. An intolerance on the other hand, is difficulty digesting certain foods and doesn’t involve the immune system. Symptoms can include diarrhea, bloating and stomach pain and usually come on a few hours after eating so can be harder to diagnose.

How can I tell if my child is just being fussy?

It’s common for children to be picky eaters. However, allergies cause a physical bodily response rather than just a meltdown!

I think my child has an allergy or intolerance. What should I do?

First, don’t try to manage it yourself by cutting food groups out of your child’s diet as this could result in them not getting the nutrients they need. Talk to your health visitor or GP, who may refer you to a registered nutritionist. It’s a good idea to keep a food diary too, to help highlight any links between certain foods and physical symptoms.

My child has been diagnosed with an allergy. What now?

The best way to manage a food allergy is – of course – to avoid the thing that causes it. Food manufacturers are legally required to highlight common potential allergens in the food’s ingredient list, so always check the label. You’ll also need to make other people aware, including nursery staff, friends and relatives, so they too can put precautions in place.