Food Fight!

What your children eat might be making them sick

You try to do the right thing by serving milk rather than juice at snack time and then your little one begins complaining of tummy troubles. Or, in an attempt to guide your teen toward more nutritional fare, you ply her with a freshly made egg salad sandwich and, suddenly, she’s covered in a rash.

In either case, you may be dealing with a food allergy — the immune system’s adverse response to a food protein. What’s more, you may be surprised to find you’re  not alone.

Increasing Numbers

Doctors have seen the number of food allergies increase significantly during the past two decades, with scientists estimating that about  6 million children in the United States alone suffer from some type of food allergy. Ranging from mild to severe and even life-threatening, symptoms can come on immediately or be delayed, taking from about two minutes to even days to appear.

Although it’s not clear why such allergies are on the upswing, Mark Rose, M.D. said that the most accepted theory is the “hygiene hypothesis.” That’s the idea that the overuse of antibiotics and sanitizing products has made our environment so clean, our immune systems don’t have to fight those germs anymore. Instead, they’ve shifted to fighting other things, namely food proteins they perceive as harmful.

Common Culprits

Meal- and snack-time can definitely be challenging when a food allergy is involved. After all, some of the biggest culprits are familiar foods, those found in kitchens from coast to coast  or hidden in processed foods.

“In kids, the most common foods that cause allergies are eggs, milk, wheat, soy, corn, peanuts and fish,” said Kevin Boesel, M.D., a Banner-affiliated pediatric allergist and immunologist who is Rose’s colleague. But because symptoms don’t always appear right away, the connection between a food and an allergic reaction may not be immediately apparent. Then again, sometimes things are more obvious. “If a kid is constantly spitting food out,” Dr. Boesel said, “the child may be saying that this doesn’t feel right.”

Symptoms to Watch for

Parents and caregivers should know that common food allergy symptoms include:

•   Upset stomach

•   Swelling/hives

•   Runny nose

•   Worsening asthma

•   Diarrhea

•   Eczema

The potentially life-threatening symptoms of anaphylaxis (a severe, whole-body allergic reaction to a chemical that has become an allergen), include:

•   Drop in blood pressure

•   Swelling of face, tongue and/or throat

•   Wheezing

•   Dizziness or fainting

•   Acute (sudden onset) diarrhea and/or
vomiting, nausea

Diagnosis and Treatment

There is no cure for food allergies, but many children do outgrow them. Nevertheless, both doctors recommend seeking advice from a board-certified specialist if you notice symptoms. A skin-prick test or blood test can often diagnose the problem and then a treatment plan can be developed to keep your youngster happy and healthy.

“If you manage a food allergy properly, it shouldn’t be an issue,” said Dr. Rose.

Nourishing Life

A food allergy is one thing, but what if your child has a medical problem — such as swallowing, gagging or chewing problems — that makes the very act of eating a challenge?

That’s when families turn to the Pediatric Swallowing and Feeding Rehabilitation Clinic at Cardon Children’s Medical Center in Mesa, a literal lifesaver for those faced with feeding dilemmas. The clinic’s staff of pediatric specialists provides assessments, consultations and therapy for children up to age 17, all within an environment that promotes healthy and positive eating behaviors. Staffers also work with parents and caregivers to develop strategies that will lead to success at mealtime.

Along with addressing picky eaters, the clinic also focuses on helping children who refuse food or have sensory issues, express fear or anxiety related to eating, or who are experiencing slow or inadequate weight gain. In addition to the clinic in Mesa, all these services will soon be available at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center in Glendale.

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