I’m lactose intolerant. So are my wife and kids. We drink lactose-free milk and I may have an occasional carton of soy milk, but I often miss the creamy taste of whole milk.
While there are some people who are truly allergic to milk, our problem can be described as a food intolerance. Many people confuse food intolerances with food allergies. I had to learn the difference because my daughter’s life depended on it.
According to Medicinenet.com, a food allergy is defined as follows:
A true food allergy is an abnormal response to food that is triggered by a specific reaction in the immune system and expressed by certain, often characteristic, symptoms…People who have food allergies must identify and prevent them because, although usually mild and not severe, these reactions can cause devastating illness and, in rare instances, can be fatal. About 3% of adults and 6%-8% of children have clinically proven true allergic reactions to food.
A food allergy can initially be experienced as an itching in the mouth and difficulty swallowing and breathing. Then, during digestion of the food in the stomach and intestines, symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain can start. The allergens are absorbed and enter the bloodstream. When they reach the skin, allergens can induce hives or eczema, and when they reach the airways, they can cause asthma. As the allergens travel through the blood vessels, they can cause light-headedness, weakness, and anaphylaxis, which is a sudden drop in blood pressure. Anaphylactic reactions are severe even when they start off with mild symptoms, such as a tingling in the mouth and throat or discomfort in the abdomen. They can be fatal if not treated quickly.
We discovered that my daughter had a food allergy after eating at Olive Garden. My daughter ordered what we thought was a benign pasta dish. However, after a few bites, my daughter started to feel ill. In the car, we noticed hives on her arms. While my wife suspected the food was causing her reaction, I brushed it off because I thought she may have gotten a rash from some of the plants around our house (we had been doing yard work the previous day).
However, a year later when she sampled crawfish for the first time, we knew for sure that shellfish were the culprit. A trip to an allergist confirmed it.
Now when we go out to dinner, we have to be extremely careful and carry an EpiPen with us at all times. We avoid seafood restaurants and ask for our daughter’s food to be cooked separately whenever we go out. It always takes longer, but making sure her food is safe is worth the wait.
Join the conversation: Do your children have childhood food allergies? If so, how did you discover it and how do you manage it?
For more information on food allergies, watch “How Parents Can Cope with Childhood Food Allergies” on Mommy to the Max.