One of the most difficult aspects of parenting is interpreting a small child’s communication. For peanut allergy and other food allergies, this can be a real problem: How can you tell if your child is allergic to peanuts or other foods? Simply refusing to eat something may not mean much more than a preference. And if a baby doesn’t feel well, it’s often difficult to trace an illness to a food allergy.

Many children have food allergies

According to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), approximately three million are children have food allergies. And to top it off, 90 percent of all food allergies come from a total of eight foods: eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, shellfish, soy, tree nuts, and wheat. These staggering statistics can make it downright scary to introduce your infant or toddler to these foods.

On the other hand, a lot of these foods are nutritious, widely available and affordable. So the best approach is to educate yourself and know what to watch out for; even if you choose to avoid these foods in the early years, your children are likely to encounter them away from home.

Severe allergic reactions not so subtle

If your child has a severe peanut allergy or other food allergies, a reaction can occur minutes after eating. A reaction may not occur the first time the food is eaten and may not express itself until after a few rounds of eating.

Unfortunately, aside from possibly not being the signs and symptoms of a severe reaction are usually easy to spot. Trouble breathing (throat closing), swelling of the face or other body parts and the development of hives typically require immediate medical attention so that the reaction does not become life-threatening.

Children may communicate unusual tastes or sensations

Children of any age may communicate an allergic reaction with signals such as grabbing or scratching at their mouth or tongue. If they are old enough to talk, they may say things like “That food was really spicy,” or “My tongue feels itchy and funny,” or, “My mouth feels really hot,” or, “My skin feels prickly.”

Slurred speech and all-over itchiness may also signal a reaction.

Keep a diary of what your child eats

In some cases, food allergies manifest themselves as medical issues such as dry, scaly patches of skin (eczema or psoriasis) or gastrointestinal problems such as chronic diarrhea or vomiting. Keeping a food diary that details everything a youngster eats can be invaluable in diagnosing problems. A food diary enables you to diagnose patterns rather than searching in the dark for causes that seem to come out of nowhere.

If your child is not experiencing severe reactions but shows signs of food-related problems, it’s a good idea to speak to your pediatrician. If symptoms are ongoing and even become worse, your pediatrician may refer you to an allergist to determine whether or not these reactions are a true food allergy.

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