The Children's Healthcare of Atlanta's Food Allergy Program was established in March 2018 to perform impactful research and deliver high-quality, patient-centered care to transform the lives of children affected by food allergies in the Southeast and beyond.
What is a food allergy?
A food allergy is an adverse health effect arising from a specific immune response that occurs from exposure to a given food. Food allergies typically develop within the first year of life, but they can also develop later in life. Although more than 170 foods have been reported to cause allergic reactions, eight food groups are estimated to cause 90 percent of food allergies in the U.S., which include milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish and crustacean shellfish. It is currently estimated that between 5 and 10 percent of U.S. children have a food allergy, approximately one child in every school classroom.
Because there are no approved treatments for food allergies, patients and their families must carefully avoid contact with their allergens and constantly be prepared to treat a reaction that occurs following accidental exposure, which can affect their social interactions and routine life activities. A food allergy can cause skin, respiratory and GI reactions, and food allergies remain the most common trigger of anaphylaxis (a rapid, potentially life-threatening systemic allergic reaction) among U.S. children. Allergic reactions to foods are unpredictable and can be severe.
Symptoms of a food allergy
A food allergy can manifest through a wide range of signs and symptoms with varying severity, which makes diagnosis challenging, particularly if a history of allergic reactions has not already been established. The most common signs and symptoms of immunoglobulin E (IgE)-mediated food allergies develop rapidly after exposure and typically manifest on the skin, in the GI tract or respiratory system, or in all of these areas. These signs and symptoms include:
- Development of urticaria (hives)
- Angioedema (tissue swelling)
- Circulatory collapse
- Stomach cramps
Non-IgE-mediated food allergies are often delayed after exposure and tend to affect the GI tract only. These types of allergies can involve difficulty eating or swallowing, vomiting, diarrhea, poor weight gain, food refusal and/or blood in the stool.