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Is It Food Poisoning or Allergy? Learn the Difference and Their Symptoms
  • Some parents may mistake various symptoms for food allergy when it could be food poisoning, so it is important to understand their symptoms. In their book Feed Your Child RightLynn Alexander and Yeong Boon Yee define food allergy as “an adverse reaction of the immune system to food.” The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) writes that food allergies occur when the body exhibits reactions against typically harmless proteins in foods. These reactions happen shortly after the child consumes a certain type of food and can range from mild to severe.

    The AAP classifies the symptoms of food allergies in four categories. It can manifest in the following ways: 

    • Skin - swelling, itchy skin rashes, and hives (red spots that may resemble mosquito bites)
    • breathing including tightness of the throat, sneezing, and wheezing
    • Stomach - nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting
    • Circulation - pale skin, light-headedness, and loss of consciousness.

    Food poisoning incidents may manifest with one or more of the following:

    • nausea
    • vomiting
    • diarrhea (watery or bloody)
    • abdominal pain
    • abdominal cramps
    • fever

    (Read more about food poisoning here.)

    When several parts of the child’s body are affected by food allergy, the child’s reactions might be severe or fatal, leading to anaphylaxis, which requires immediate medical attention. According to Mayo Clinic, symptoms of anaphylaxis include constriction of airways, swelling of the throat which makes it difficult for the child to breathe, a severe drop in blood pressure, a rapid pulse, and light-headedness, dizziness, or loss of consciousness.

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    The most common causes of food allergies in children


    Even if your child has a food allergy in her early life, it is still possible for her to outgrow it. The AAP says that an estimated 80% to 90% of egg, milk, wheat, and soy allergies tend to disappear by the time a child is 5 years old, although some allergies might be more persistent. You need to discuss with your pediatrician how best to manage your child’s food allergy. Read more below to learn about the latest expert recommendations you need to know about three of the most common types of food allergies: peanut, milk, and shellfish.


    Peanut allergy is one of the most common causes of severe allergy attacks in children, says Mayo Clinic. It is also the most common cause of anaphylaxis — exposure to the tiniest amount of peanut products can be fatal.

    Some might think that omitting peanut products from a child’s diet in early childhood is the best way to prevent peanut allergy. But research has shown that exposing kids to peanuts early may help lower the risk of your child having the allergy. That is why the AAP revised its recommendations and classified babies into three groups.

    For kids with severe eczema and/or egg allergy

    AAP recommends parents to talk to their doctors about when to give their children peanut products and have their children tested for peanut allergy. This conversation can occur during the child’s second or fourth month checkup or when they are between 4 and 6 months old. If the test shows a positive allergy result, it might be best for the child’s first taste of peanut products to happen in the doctor’s office.

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    For kids with mild to moderate eczema

    Babies in this group are recommended to be introduced to peanut products when they are around 6 months old. The AAP recommends parents to still talk to their doctors about their child’s specific situation, although testing for the allergy may not be needed. 

    For kids who did not have any food allergy or eczema

    The AAP recommends parents to give their children peanut products according to their preference. This introduction does not necessarily have to be done early in a child’s life.

    Finally, the AAP says that babies are not to be given whole or chunks of peanuts or chunky peanut butter as these can be potential choking hazards. Instead, the organization suggests mixing smooth peanut butter into a puree or food products made with peanut butter.

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    It may sound ironic, but milk allergy is also very common in young children. The AAP writes, “A true milk protein allergy usually appears in the first year of life when an infant’s digestive system is still quite immature.”

    The most common symptoms of milk allergy —rashes, an upset stomach, vomiting and/or diarrhea, and possibly blood in the stool — typically manifest in the minutes or hours after a child consumes a milk product. The AAP notes if the milk allergy affects a baby’s respiratory system, she might also manifest symptoms such as nasal stuffiness, cough, wheezing, a runny nose, or difficulty in breathing. The allergy may also trigger itching, swelling, eczema, hives, or a rash around the mouth or the chin.


    The AAP has different recommendations for treating milk allergy. For breastfed babies, a pediatrician might suggest a mother embrace a milk-free diet, take a calcium supplement on top of the prenatal vitamins they are already taking, and delay giving their child cow’s milk for as long as possible. Talk to your pediatrician about when and how to introduce this product to your child.

    For formula-fed babies, a pediatrician might suggest going for alternatives like soy milk. Again, make sure to talk to your pediatrician and ask for their suggestions on what brand of formula you can purchase.

    For children over a year old, a pediatrician might first eliminate milk products for a specific period to see if there are any improvements in the child. If there are, they might try giving her a controlled introduction of milk to see whether the symptoms decrease, disappear, or reappear. This is to be done under the supervision of a doctor since a child with milk allergy can quickly get sick even if she is exposed to tiny amounts of milk products, says the AAP. The pediatrician might also suggest omitting milk products like cheese and ice cream from the child’s diet and using a milk substitute, or even prescribe medications to treat reactions.

    According to the AAP, the best way to prevent a child from developing milk allergy is to breastfeed her. Research has shown that breastfeeding a child for at least four months can delay or altogether prevent milk allergy.



    Kids Health writes that shellfish can be classified into two groups: crustaceans, which include lobster, crab, and shrimp; and mollusks, which include clams, oysters, scallops, mussels, octopus, and squid. Note that though shellfish and fish are both seafood, they are biologically different, so even if your child is allergic to shellfish, it does not automatically mean she is also allergic to fish.

    Shellfish allergy can develop at any age, even to people who have eaten shellfish in the past. However, unlike other types of allergies which can be outgrown, a child who develops shellfish allergy in early life will likely have the allergy for the rest of her life.

    If your child’s allergy testing shows that she has a shellfish allergy, the best way to prevent allergic reactions is to make sure she does not eat any shellfish or foods that might contain shellfish. It might also be best for her to be kept away from areas where shellfish is cooked.

    What to do if you think your child has a food allergy

    Alexander and Yee suggest that if you suspect that your child has any type of food allergy, eliminate that food product from her diet completely and observe what happens to her symptoms. If they persist, call your pediatrician for medical advice and a diagnosis of the allergy to prevent reactions.

    The authors also say that when dietary restrictions are prolonged, the child’s nutritional status may be compromised, especially if those restrictions involve foods that are rich in essential nutrients. Again, make sure to consult with your doctor to see if your child will require any vitamin or mineral supplements to give her the nutrition she needs.

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