Food allergies affect about 8 percent of all kids under the age of 18 in the United States. Chances are, if your child does not have a food allergy, you know someone who does.

According to Children’s National Director of the Food Allergy Program, Hemant Prashad Sharma, M.D, about 1 in 13 kids have a food allergy. A food allergy is an adverse reaction to a specific food that the body thinks is harmful, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The immune system in someone with food allergy produces immunoglobulin E (IgE), an antibody, to fight the food allergen. As a result, when the person is exposed to that food, IgE binds to it and causes the release of a number of chemicals, including histamine. This leads to an allergic reaction.

Some common food allergens include:

Common food allergy symptoms include:

Any of these food allergies can lead to a severe, life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. It is estimated that food-induced anaphylaxis is the reason for about 200,000 emergency department visits each year.

Testing for food allergies
Food allergies, however, are a manageable conditions and can be diagnosed even in infancy. Some tests for food allergies include:

Dr. Sharma suggests that for the most accurate results, parents must be aware of their child’s history or the suspected food allergy to help guide the testing.

How to treat food allergies
The best treatment of food allergies is to stay away from foods and drinks that contain the allergen. It is important to read all of the labels on food packages and be wary of cross-contact of foods. Your child’s doctor will prescribe epinephrine autoinjectors for treatment of severe anaphylactic reactions.

According to Dr. Sharma, about 80-90 percent of kids allergic to milk, wheat, eggs and soy may grow out of their allergy, but the likelihood of outgrowing a peanut, tree nut or seafood allergy is only 10 percent.

Test your food allergy knowledge and learn strategies to help tamp down your child’s anxieties in our food allergy quiz!


Hemant Sharma, MD, MHS, is the Clinical Chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at Children’s National. He is Director of the Food Allergy Program at Children’s National, as well as Site Director for the National Institutes of Health Allergy and Immunology Fellowship Program.

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