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Food Allergy Myths & Misconceptions

Knowing the facts and being familiar with common myths and misconceptions can be helpful if you are living with food allergies or caring for someone who has food allergies. Once you are aware of the facts, it is important to share with others in the food allergy community as you come across inaccurate information to help dispel myths and misconceptions.

If your child has a food allergy, you should be aware of these common myths

Myth: If a specific food or ingredient causes symptoms to appear, your child is allergic to it.

While having symptoms may indicate a food allergy, there are many other reasons that symptoms can appear including food sensitivities or intolerances.

It is important to know the difference between food allergies and food intolerances. Food allergies occur when the immune system reacts to a specific food, usually a protein. A wide range of symptoms can occur, which can be mild to severe. Symptoms can include hives, swelling, gastrointestinal (GI) issues, changes in blood pressure, fainting, difficulty breathing, and shock.

In contrast, food intolerance does not involve the immune system. Rather, it is an adverse reaction to a specific food, and is likely to start in the GI system. A food intolerance is generally caused by an inability – or limited ability – to digest or absorb specific foods or ingredients in foods. Symptoms associated with food intolerance usually begin about 30-minutes after eating the troublesome food, but can occur up to 48 hours after eating. Symptoms can include nausea, bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhea.

Symptoms can also occur after consuming or touching something that is contaminated with bacteria, viruses or other toxins. If you are unsure of the cause, it may be helpful to consult your pediatrician.

Myth: Food allergies aren’t serious.

Fact: Food allergies can cause severe reactions – from difficulty breathing to loss of consciousness – and involve several parts of the body. Anaphylaxis is a severe reaction, which can be life-threatening. People with food allergies must always be vigilant in order to avoid any potential allergic reactions and must always be prepared to treat severe reactions.

Myth: Eating a small amount of the food allergen won’t be a problem.

Fact: For kids who have food allergies, even a trace amount of a food allergen can trigger an allergic reaction. In order to stay safe, the allergen must be completely removed from the child’s diet. Avoiding cross-contact between a safe food and the allergen is an important consideration as well. Learn more about how you can avoid food allergy reactions due to cross contact.

Myth: Each new allergic reaction will be worse than the previous allergic reaction.

Fact: Managing a food allergy and preventing reactions requires constant vigilance, and there is no way of predicting how the immune system will react based on previous reactions. An allergic reaction can range from mild to severe, and you must always be ready with emergency medication, such as an epinephrine pen, just in case.

It is important to note that children can outgrow a food allergy, which means that they will be able to consistently eat the food or ingredient that previously caused an allergic reaction without experiencing any symptoms. Outgrowing a food allergy happens naturally and does not require a treatment to sustain the tolerance of the food – such as participation in a research study for a potential food allergy treatment.  Some treatments may allow a child to eat the food allergen but requires ongoing ingestion of the food or treatment to maintain this tolerance and this would not be considered a natural resolution of a food allergy.

To learn more about outgrowing food allergies, read our blog post here.

Myth: The most dangerous food allergic reaction that a child can experience is from eating peanuts.

Fact: There is no single food allergen that poses a more significant threat compared to other food allergens. All food allergies can be serious. There are nine foods that account for the majority of food allergies, including milk, egg, peanut, tree nut, soy, wheat, fish, shellfish, and sesame. It is important to note that virtually any food or ingredient can cause an allergic reaction, and even a trace amount of the problem food can cause a reaction.

Myth: Stomach pain or GI distress has nothing to do with food allergies.

Fact: Stomach upset may sometimes be an initial symptom of a food allergy. If you are concerned that your child may have a food allergy, it may be helpful to talk to your pediatrician who may want to refer you to an allergist for further evaluation if they suspect a food allergy.

Myth: Consuming small amounts of the food or ingredient can eliminate the allergy.

Fact: In some situations, there may be some advantage to using this technique but you should never have a child eat even a trace amount of a food allergen without first consulting with a physician who can advise you and closely monitor the process. Even a trace amount of the troublesome food or ingredient can be dangerous and may cause a severe reaction.

Myth: You should not introduce common food allergens into your child’s diet before age 3.

Fact: According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, you can begin introducing solid foods to children as young as 4-6 months old, if they are developmentally ready.  This includes foods that are common allergens such as peanut, fish, and eggs. All families should consult their healthcare team for safe ways to feed potential choking hazards, such as peanut and tree nuts to small children. If your family has a history of food allergies – or your child has an allergic disease such as asthma or eczema – it is important to talk to your pediatrician or allergist about the appropriate time to introduce solid foods.

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