Emerging food allergies in the toddler years

Getting through the first few years of feeding your toddler can sometimes feel like a daily dietary experiment. Learning about the foods they can tolerate and likes takes a lot of patience and willingness on your part. By the time your child is close to three years old, they will probably have tried a variety of foods, and you should have a good idea about what they enjoy.

But what happens when suddenly, a new food they put in their mouth, or even a familiar food that hasn’t caused problems before, causes a reaction you didn’t expect? Food allergies can form at any time, and can often be revealed on the second exposure. As your child’s taste buds mature and they are willing to try new things, there is a chance his latest “go to” meal could reveal a hidden food allergy.

Is it a food allergy?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a food allergy happens when the body’s immune system reacts against harmless proteins found in foods. The reaction usually happens shortly after a food is eaten and can vary from mild to severe. It’s important for parents to know the symptoms, so they can be sure what they are seeing is an allergy, and not just a symptom of an illness or something else.

Additionally, toddlers can also have an intolerance to certain foods, which has nothing to do with the immune system. Rather, it is caused by the digestive system. Another part of the distinction between the two comes down to the amount of food it takes to cause a reaction. If your child is allergic, a very small amount of the food will produce severe reactions. Whereas an intolerance most likely will occur with a larger intake of food, and only result in minor symptoms. Your physician or healthcare provider can help you determine if a reaction to a food is a true allergy or an intolerance.

Kids can have issues with just about any type of food, but there are some that trigger an allergic reaction more often than others. Cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, soy, wheat, nuts from trees, fish, and shellfish, are the most common allergens. Pay special attention to any reaction to peanuts, nuts, and seafood, as they can cause the most severe reactions, and while a first reaction can be fairly mild, the second tends to be stronger.

Symptoms of a food allergy

Your child is at a higher risk of having a food allergy if there is a history of food allergies in your family, so it’s critical to watch for any of the following reactions after introducing a potentially triggering food.

  • Skin problems: Hives, itching, skin rashes, and swelling
  • Breathing problems: Sneezing, wheezing, and throat tightness
  • Stomach symptoms: Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Circulation symptoms: Pale skin, light-headedness, and loss of consciousness

Tips for parents

Most kids will outgrow food allergies during early childhood. The AAP says that 80 to 90% of egg, milk, wheat, and soy allergies go away by age five. If you suspect your child is having a reaction to a particular type of food, start keeping a food record or diary for four days. You can create a spreadsheet or simply write what he eats and drinks (meals, snacks, and liquids) over the course of these four days and note any type of reaction. Not only will this help you determine if there is something going on, it’s also a document you can provide your medical provider if you decide to seek medical help. Some parents may also choose to do an elimination diet, where they eliminate the food that they suspect is causing an allergic reaction. Most experts recommend the food be eliminated for at least a week or ten days and then reintroduce one new food at a time each week. If you have any immediate concerns, seek the guidance of your child’s physician.

About the author:

Sara Lindberg is a freelance writer focusing on parenting, health, and wellness. She is passionate about all things fitness and health and loves spending time with her husband, daughter, and son. 

  • “Food Allergies in Children.” Healthy Children. American Academy of Pediatrics, November 21 2015. Retrieved August 22 2017. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/nutrition/Pages/Food-Allergies-in-Children.aspx.
  • “Tracking Down Hidden Food Allergies.” AskDrSears. AskDrSears.com. Retreived August 22 2017. https://www.askdrsears.com/topics/feeding-eating/feeding-infants-toddlers/food-allergies/tracking-hidden-food-allergies-3-steps. 

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