Food allergies in children present with a wide spectrum of clinical manifestations, including anaphylaxis, urticaria, angioedema, atopic dermatitis and gastrointestinal symptoms (such as vomiting, diarrhoea and failure to thrive).
Symptoms usually begin in the first 2 years of life, often after the first known exposure to the food.
Immediate reactions (occurring between several minutes and 2 hours after ingestion) are likely to be IgE-mediated and can usually be detected by skin prick testing (SPT) or measuring food-specific serum IgE antibody levels.
Over 90% of IgE-mediated food allergies in childhood are caused by eight foods: cows milk, hens egg, soy, peanuts, tree nuts (and seeds), wheat, fish and shellfish. Anaphylaxis is a severe and potentially life-threatening form of IgE-mediated food allergy that requires prescription of self-injectable adrenaline.
Delayed-onset reactions (occurring within several hours to days after ingestion) are often difficult to diagnose. They are usually SPT negative, and elimination or challenge protocols are required to make a definitive diagnosis. These forms of food allergy are not usually associated with anaphylaxis.
The mainstay of diagnosis and management of food allergies is correct identification and avoidance of the offending antigen.
Children often develop tolerance to cows milk, egg, soy and wheat by school age, whereas allergies to nuts and shellfish are more likely to be lifelong.
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