Did you know that nearly 6 million children suffer from a food allergy today? Whether your child has a food allergy or you’re wondering when to introduce foods like egg, cow’s milk, or peanut butter, it’s important to be aware of the most common food allergies in children.
The Most Common Food Allergies in Kids
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, there are over 170 foods known to produce allergic reactions. (source)
Yikes! Before you swear off everything under the sun, know this: most allergies are caused by just eight foods.
- Cow’s milk
- Hen’s eggs
- Tree nuts
Besides being a tasty addition to a warm bowl of oatmeal, milk provides necessary nutrients (like calcium) for growing bodies. According to MyPlate.gov, two-year-olds should receive two cups of milk per day.
But unfortunately, not everyone can tolerate cow’s milk. Cow’s milk is the most common food allergy in childhood. According to research published in Annals of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, 2-3 percent of babies are diagnosed with cow’s milk allergy, but as many as 15 percent of babies demonstrate some symptoms of an allergy. (source) Why such a large gap between the diagnosed cases and the babies who demonstrate symptoms? It can be tricky to quantify the exact figure, because milk is one of the the hardest allergens to avoid and a cow’s milk allergy can present before a baby is even eating solids. If a breastfeeding baby has an allergy to cow’s milk protein, he may react to any milk that mama consumes.
Cows milk allergy vs. intolerance
- A cow’s milk allergy has an allergy to a certain protein in the milk, and like all other food allergies, this triggers an immune system response. This is not the same thing as lactose intolerance.
- A baby with lactose intolerance is lacking a certain enzyme (called lactase) that breaks down the lactose in milk. An intolerance does not trigger an immune system response; an intolerance to lactose means that the body struggles to digest it, which is why lactose intolerance symptoms are often limited to the GI system. (source)
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Eggs are rich in protein, healthy fat, and selenium. Mashed eggs yolks are even a good first food for babies! So it’s a big bummer if your child develops an allergy to this nutritious food. Egg allergies are the second most common food allergy, but fortunately, most egg allergies are not life-threatening. (source)
Just like with cow’s milk protein allergies, a certain protein in the egg triggers an immune response in allergic individuals. Some children are allergic to the protein in the yolk, some are allergic to the protein in the whites, and some are allergic to both. However, allergies to the egg whites only is the most common.
It can be difficult to avoid eggs altogether since eggs are in many products and even some breads and pastas! That being said, many kids with egg allergies can consume egg-containing foods. (source, source)
Peanut allergies are perhaps the most discussed food allergy, and rightly so: Peanut allergies are very common (4-8 percent of kids) and they are often life-threatening. (source) The severity of peanut allergies explains why peanut-free classrooms and peanut-free lunchrooms are now the norm across America.
To make peanut allergies even more worrisome, sometimes a child doesn’t even need to eat the peanut product. Some individuals are so sensitive to peanuts that touching a peanut or inhaling the dust from peanuts can trigger a reaction.
The previous three foods (milk, egg, and peanut) make up 80 percent of common food allergies in kids (source), but that’s not to discount soy allergies. According to a study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, soy allergies, which affect 0.4 percent of children, can cause some uncomfortable reactions such as:
- Eczema (85 percent of children with soy allergies)
- Congestion (71 percent of children with soy allergies)
- Asthma (64 percent of children with soy allergies)
The tricky thing about soy allergies is that soy is found is so many products, including baby formula, vegan meat products, and bean sprouts. If you suspect you have a soy allergy (or any allergy) always read labels before consuming a food or offering it to your child.
Out of children already diagnosed with food allergies, wheat is responsible for about 20 percent of those allergies. This equates to about 1 percent of the total population. (source)
If your child has a wheat allergy, be sure to check labels—wheat can sneak into many ingredient lists… including cosmetic products! (source) If you’re wondering why, wheat finds a place in cosmetics because gluten (which is what makes bread dough have that sticky consistency) helps to “glue” and bind the various minerals in makeup into one unified piece.
Wheat allergy vs. celiac disease
Just like a cow’s milk protein allergy is a separate condition from lactose intolerance, wheat allergy and celiac disease are two different conditions.
- A wheat allergy triggers an immune response in reaction to the presence of a protein found in wheat.
- Celiac disease is a disease (not an allergy), in which the body is too sensitive to gluten, leading to inflammation and malabsorption of nutrients. This also explains why celiac disease symptoms are primarily digestive symptoms.
Celiac disease also limits a person’s ability to consume any grain that contains gluten: wheat, barley, malt, and rye, etc. Having a wheat allergy does not mean that you will be hypersensitive to gluten in these non-wheat, gluten-containing grains. (source)
Peanuts and tree nuts are not lumped into one category, because peanuts are not technically nuts—they’re legumes! Tree nuts is a wide category that includes:
- Brazil nuts
- Macadamia nuts
- Pine nuts
In addition to the actual whole nuts, tree nuts find their way into many other food products, including pesto (which is typically a mixture of basil, pine nuts or walnuts, garlic, and olive oil), nut butters, nut milks, and many types of granola bars.
Like peanut allergies, tree nut allergies tend to cause very serious reactions. Peanut allergies are more common than tree nut allergies; only 1 percent of the food allergies are attributed to tree nuts. (source) That being said, if you know you are allergic to just one tree nut (such as almonds), it’s a good idea to avoid all tree nuts. You may want to talk to your doctor about an allergy test to confirm which or how many tree nuts you are allergic to.
Not to be confused with shellfish allergies, fish allergies are caused by non-crustacean seafood. Fish allergies account for only .6 percent of food allergies in children. (source)
The most common sources of fish allergies are:
- Fresh or canned salmon
- Fresh or canned tuna
But if you’re allergic to salmon, for instance, that doesn’t mean you’re allergic to all fish. It’s important to work closely with your doctor or allergist to pinpoint which types of fish trigger the reactions.
When you have a shellfish allergy, you experience an immune response to a certain protein (called tropomyosin) in shellfish.
Shellfish allergies only account for up to 0.9 percent of food allergies, but surprisingly, shellfish allergies cause more symptoms (including eczema) than peanut allergies. (source)
Signs of Food Allergies
If you notice the following symptoms in your child, one of the common food allergies may be the culprit. You can learn more about food allergies in this post.
- Hives or welts on the face and/or body
- Facial swelling (includes the face as well as lips, tongue, and cheeks)
- GI upset including vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Trouble breathing
- Loss of consciousness
Note: The common food allergies above can result in a serious allergic reaction called anaphylaxis, which is characterized by difficulty breathing, facial swelling, tightening of the throat experiences trouble breathing, swelling on face or lips, or has severe vomiting or diarrhea, call 911. Food allergies can escalate quickly and severe allergies can be fatal.
Can You Outgrow Food Allergies?
In short, yes, many children do outgrow common food allergies. Here’s a look at which allergies typically resolve and which allergies persist.
A cow’s milk protein allergy can be outgrown; in fact, about 85- 90 percent of children with this allergy will outgrow it. (source)
About 37 percent of children outgrow their allergy by the time they turn 10, but by the time the teens hit, as many as 68 percent of children outgrow their egg allergy. (source)
Unfortunately, it is rare to outgrow a peanut allergy. Only about 15 percent of children outgrow their peanut allergy, and if it hasn’t happened by age 10, it likely won’t happen at all. (source)
The vast majority of children with soy allergies will outgrow the allergy, but when a child outgrows the allergy can vary. According to a Kaplan-Meier analysis performed during a 2010 study (source):
- Four years old: 25 percent of children with soy allergies will outgrow the allergy
- Six years old: 45 percent of children with soy allergies will outgrow the allergy
- Ten years old: 69 percent of children with soy allergies will outgrow the allergy
Most (76 percent) of children with a wheat allergy outgrow this allergy by the age of 20.
Unfortunately, tree nut allergies are rarely resolved. Only about 9 percent of children ever outgrow this allergy. (source)
Believe it or not, many fish allergies do not develop in childhood. About 40 percent of individuals with fish allergies didn’t have their first reaction until they had already reached adulthood! (source)
It is unlikely that you will outgrow a shellfish allergy. Less than 5 percent of individuals do, and this is even less likely if you develop the allergy as an adult. (source)
How to Prevent Common Food Allergies
It can be overwhelming to think about so many foods potentially causing allergic reactions in your baby, but the latest research has uncovered some groundbreaking revelations: Introducing these allergenic foods to babies early (as soon as baby starts eating solids—around six months), it’s possible to reduce the risk of developing allergies.
- LEAP study: This UK study found that introducing peanuts early and consistently through four years of age, reduces the chance of developing allergies by up to 80 percent. (source)
- EAT study: Babies who were exposed to eggs, peanuts, and cow’s milk early were 67 percent less likely to have common food allergies. (source)
- The PETIT study: There was a 79 percent reduction in egg allergies in babies were who consistently exposed to eggs before 12 months. (source)
We recommend Ready, Set, Food! to help prevent food allergies
To make early allergen introduction easier—and safer—several companies have developed programs that focus on introducing the top three allergens (cow’s milk, peanuts, and eggs) to babies as soon as they begin eating solids.
We like Ready, Set, Food! Simply pour a pre-measured packet into a bottle (breast milk or formula), and feed baby as normal. You can use this program for six months, or more, depending on when baby begins regularly eating these foods in solid form.