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Doctor Q & A: Helping Kids with Food Allergies

Dr. Clinton Dunn, pediatric allergy specialist at CHKD, has these tips for families of children who have been recently diagnosed with a food allergy.

What advice would you give a parent whose child was recently diagnosed with a food allergy?

Make sure that everyone responsible for the care of your child knows how to recognize an allergic reaction including anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction, and learns when and how to treat allergic reactions including using the epinephrine auto-injector.

Every school-age child should have an allergy action plan at school. Request a meeting with the school nurse, principal and teachers. Start by asking lots of questions. Find out if the school has any food allergy management policies in place and work with administrators, teachers and the school nurse to create a food allergy management and prevention plan for your child.

Teach your child how to read food labels, notify others of their food allergies when eating out at a restaurant and avoid cross contact of foods and surfaces where foods are prepared and served.

Become the expert. Learn as much as you can about food allergies from reliable sources. Talk to your CHKD pediatrician. Find a support group.

Two websites I recommend are and

Find your new balance point – where you feel prepared for treating an allergic reaction if it happens, but not paralyzed by fear waiting for one.

What are the most common allergy-causing foods?

The most common foods children are allergic to are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat and soy.

What are the symptoms of a food allergy?

Several symptoms of a food allergy may occur during a reaction. Previous reactions do not predict future allergic reactions including if a child has a symptom once this does not mean that will be the same or only symptom they will have with subsequent reactions. Below are various symptoms of an allergic reaction:

Skin – Redness, itching, hives, swelling of the skin, lips or tongue.

Gastrointestinal – Throat fullness, oral itching, nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea.

Respiratory – Nasal congestion, nasal itching, sneezing, hoarseness, voice changes, cough, chest tightness, shortness of breath, wheezing.

Cardiovascular – Rapid heart rate, low blood pressure, dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting.

Do children outgrow food allergies?

It depends.. Children outgrow milk and egg allergies between 50-80 percent of the time. Shellfish and fish allergies may also subside with age, but at a lower rate than milk and eggs. Around 20 percent of children with an allergic reaction to peanuts outgrow their allergy. Tree nuts have varied outgrowth rates between 9-20 percent. There are many therapeutic options that are being developed for various food allergies and the future is quite promising for treatment options to help treat food allergies.

What’s the most important thing a parent can do to help their child with a food allergy?

Teach them to ask the right questions and speak up before eating unfamiliar foods and to always be aware of symptoms of an allergic reaction including how to treat reactions.

If you think your child has a food allergy, visit your CHKD pediatrician.

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About Children's Specialty Group

About Children's  Specialty Group Children's Specialty Group is the only pediatric multi-specialty practice serving southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. The physicians of Children's Specialty Group base their practices at Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters and serve as faculty in the Department of Pediatrics at Eastern Virginia Medical School. Learn more about our specialists here.