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Allergic Reactions in Children

Updated: Feb 5, 2019

Recognising an allergic reaction to food in children

Children can be allergic to a number of things, including food, insect bites/stings, dust mites, and pollen. Food allergies are incredibly common, occurring in 1 out of every 20 children.Early identification of food allergies, and knowing what foods to avoid, can help to improve your child’s quality of life. It also reduces the risk of a potential life-threatening allergic reaction.

What is a food allergy? What are the symptoms?

A food allergy occurs when the body’s immune system reacts abnormally to a food which is usually harmless to others. Symptoms occur almost immediately after consuming the food. This is something which can develop at any age, but most commonly appears in children under the age of 5. It’s important to note that most reactions are not severe, luckily!Common symptoms of a mild-moderate reaction include:

  • Skin rash or hives

  • Swelling of the face, lips and/or eyes

  • Diarrhoea, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting

  • Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction and a medical emergency, with the development of life-threatening symptoms. These including:

  • Difficult or noisy breathing

  • Swelling of the tongue and/or throat

  • Difficulty talking and/or a hoarse voice

  • Wheeze and/or persistent cough

  • Dizziness or collapse

  • Becoming pale and floppy (young children)

  • If you notice your child having any of the above signs or symptoms, seek medical attention.

What’s the difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance?

A food intolerance occurs when the body has a chemical reaction to eating a particular food or drink – it is different to an allergy, in that it is not actually controlled by the immune system. The confusing part is that the symptoms may be similar to mild-moderate food allergy, but they never cause a severe reaction or anaphylaxis. The reaction also usually occurs some time after the food is ingested, rather than immediately.

What types of foods cause allergic reactions?

The most common foods associated with food allergies are:

  • Peanuts

  • Treenuts (eg. almonds, cashews)

  • Seafood

  • Shellfish

  • Egg

  • Cow’s milk

  • Wheat

  • Soy

  • Sesame

  • Fruits & vegetables

  • However, any food has the potential to cause a reaction!

Do children grow out of food allergies?

Thankfully, a lot of children do grow out of their food allergies. This is especially true for milk, egg, wheat and soy allergies – most children outgrow these by the time they are 5 years old. However, nut, fish, shellfish and sesame allergies often continue into adulthood.

What should I do if I think my child has a food allergy?

If you would like some more information on food allergies, please visit the ASCIA website: your child develops any of the symptoms mentioned above and you think they may be related to some food they’ve eaten (for example: if a new food has just been introduced, or they’ve had a similar reaction to the same food before), please seek medical advice. You can come in to see one of our friendly GPs, who will be able to assess whether your child might have a food allergy, or if something else is causing their symptoms. Please contact us on 8340 2233 to book an appointment. If your child is severely unwell, and may be having an anaphylactic reaction, please call 000 or bring them into an Emergency Department for immediate medical treatment.


· Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) 2016, ‘Food Allergy,’ Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA)· Better Health Channel 2016, ‘Food allergy and intolerance,’ Victoria State Government,· Raising Children Network Australia 2016, ‘Food allergies and food intolerances: symptoms and management,’ Raising Children Network Australia,

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