The Who, What And Why Of Food Allergies

Everything you need to know about food allergies and your children


Food allergies have been on the rise for the last number of years, with Health Canada reporting between five to six percent of children in Canada suffering from a confirmed allergy. Food allergies affect not only those suffering from the allergy, but also their family, friends and classmates. For this reason it is important for everyone to have an understanding of the seriousness of food allergies.


While allergies can afflict anyone at any age, sometimes seemingly without warning, they are much more prevalent in children. According to the Canadian Pediatric Society, children who have at least one parent or sibling who suffers from atopic dermatitis (eczema), a food allergy, asthma or allergic rhinitis, are considered “high-risk” for developing an allergy themselves. This is not to say genetics are the only factor in a child contracting an allergies, as allergies can also affect those without a family history.


Food allergies exist when the body identifies a specific food protein as harmful. A food allergy can get worse the more the body is exposed to the protein. During the first exposure, the body begins creating antibodies for the protein. Upon the second and subsequent exposures, the previously created antibodies and chemicals like histamine are released. 

Histamine is a powerful chemical that can cause a reaction in the respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract, skin or cardiovascular system. In the most extreme cases, food allergies can be fatal. Although any food can provoke an immune response in allergic individuals, a few foods are responsible for the majority of food allergies (Health Canada).

The most common food allergies include milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, soy and sulphites. In addition to genuine allergies, food intolerances have also been on the rise. In comparison to allergies, intolerances do not produce antibodies or histamine; they instead generally present as a disturbance in the gastrointestinal system.


While the incidence of food allergies seems to be on the rise, experts have been unable to agree whether rates truly are higher or simply being reported more.  Studies on risk factors including maternal pre-natal diet and delayed introduction to high-risk allergy foods have been inconclusive. Experts do agree, however that allergies carry a hereditary risk factor. As well, it has been concluded that exclusively breast-feeding for the first six months of life decreases allergy risk.

If you think your child may be suffering from an allergy, be sure to take them to your family doctor to investigate the matter further.  

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