It's an alarming trend and a wakeup call for parents. The Center For Disease Control reports that food allergies in American children appear to be on the rise. Three million children nationwide are now affected, according to the first federal study on the problem.
The numbers are staggering. The CDC report claims that 1 in 26 children now have some sort of food allergy. That's up from 1 in 29 kids, which was reported in 1997 - an 18% increase in the last decade alone.
"My nine-year-old daughter, Anna, is allergic to both peanuts and dairy, so we have lived with this fear for years. It's life changing," says Shelagh, a Connecticut mom. "We know we are safe at home, but you have to be hyper aware of where she is and what she is eating at all times. A simple thing like eating in the school cafeteria can be a cause for anxiety. I had to pick her up one day when another child accidentally spilled milk on Anna, causing her to break out in hives all over her body. Then there are the birthday parties and playdates; you try to do the best you can to inform teachers and other parents of the potential danger. It's a full time job and it can be scary. This is your child's health we're talking about."
As to why the drastic increase in cases, the answer may be as simple as education. Shelagh says things were different when she was growing up. "Back when we were kids, our parents didn't drag us to the doctor if we had an upset stomach. Parents today are more likely to take their kids to the doctor at the first sign of trouble. More doctor's visits means more diagnosis. And in some cases, that can be a lifesaver."
Amy Brandum, a CDC statistician who co-authored the report agrees. "I didn't know anybody in my elementary school with problems and now there are schools assessing how many classrooms are affected, and it's not insignificant."
How do you tell if your own child has allergies?
Food allergies usually occur after the introduction of solid foods. Almost all children with food allergies will have some form of skin symptom (like hives, redness of skin, and itching). These symptoms typically occur within a few minutes of eating the food in question, although can be delayed up to a couple of hours.
Other symptoms of food allergies in young children can include
nausea, vomiting, stomach aches, diarrhea, runny nose, sneezing, and
light-headedness. If you notice any of these symptoms, call your
In some cases, children can experience a severe allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis, which can rapidly constrict the airway and is life-threatening. If you child is having trouble breathing, dial 911.
Do your kids have food allergies?