Food Allergies

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The simplest way to prevent an allergic reaction is to avoid the offending food. This is easier said than done, however, and it is important to carefully read food labels and always check with restaurant staff about ingredients and how the food is prepared.

The most common foods to cause allergic reactions in adults are peanuts, tree nuts (almonds, cashews, pistachios, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, and others), fish, and shellfish. The foods that most commonly cause allergic reactions in young children are milk, eggs, wheat, soy, and peanuts; allergies to foods such as tree nuts, fish, and shellfish are observed as these foods are added to growing children's diets. Although some of the children allergic to milk, eggs, soy, and wheat outgrow their Food Allergies over the first several years of life recent studies suggest that many children continue to outgrow food allergies into adolescence. Allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish are less frequently outgrown. For example, only about 20 percent of children allergic to peanuts outgrow their allergy.

To prevent accidental exposure to an allergen, you should memorize the common names of foods you or your child are allergic to, as well as other ways they might be listed on food labels, and then scrutinize all labels. Identifying which foods contain allergens became somewhat easier after new rules went into effect requiring that foods containing one or more of the eight most common allergens (all listed above) must have a label clearly stating so.

Other useful precautions:

  • If your child has a food allergy, you should be sure to tell all of your child's caregivers about the condition and review with them the plan of treatment to be followed if your child has a reaction.
  • If you have an allergy, wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace describing your condition. If your child has the allergy, get a medical alert bracelet for him or her.
  • Learn when and how to use an injectable epinephrine device. Carry it with you at all times in case of a severe allergic reaction.
  • Introducing food to babies

    Most children from families without allergies will not develop allergies even if exposed to these foods at a young age. Alternatively, children in families with allergic members are at a higher risk of developing allergies. As a result, in the past many pediatricians and allergists recommended that allergic parents use certain strategies to attempt to prevent allergies in their young children who were not yet allergic. For example, some physicians suggested that the parents of infants at higher risk delay introducing the foods that commonly caused allergies until the babies were older. The rationale for this approach was that avoidance early in life might reduce the likelihood of sensitization. A lack of convincing evidence that delaying food introduction (even those considered to be common allergens) beyond 4 to 6 months of age protects against the development of food allergy has led to abandonment of this approach. 

    A number of studies have attempted to determine if women in families with allergic members can reduce the risk of their babies developing Food Allergies by avoiding the foods during pregnancy. The results of these studies do not support the use of elimination diets during pregnancy, as they do not appear to reduce the child's risk.

    Although small amounts of food allergens can be measured in the breast milk of mothers who are ingesting these foods, taking allergenic foods out of the nursing mother's diet has not been shown to prevent the development of food allergy in breastfed children. Nonetheless, many physicians recommend that mothers of children at high risk of developing allergies remove peanuts and tree nuts from their diet while breastfeeding and delay the introduction of solid foods until six months of age.

    It is also reasonable when giving a baby with a family history of allergies a new food to start with a small amount and wait for several minutes to make sure the food is tolerated before giving more. This is especially true for foods that commonly provoke allergic reactions.

    Last reviewed on 11/6/09

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