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Children With Special Dietary Needs

Get the facts about your kids’ food allergies and intolerances.
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WebMD Feature

Many day cares and preschools in the U.S. have prominently posted signs asking parents not to pack food for their kids containing peanuts, because so many children are allergic. It seems like special dietary needs are an ever-growing issue.

Food allergies affect as many as 8% of children in the U.S., leaving a challenge for parents: What can you pack for lunch? How can you be sure your kids don't trade snacks with a friend? How should you handle occasions like birthday parties?

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To find answers -- for causes, symptoms, diet, and more -- WebMD talked to Wesley Burks, MD, chief of the division of pediatric allergy and immunology at Duke University Medical Center.

Fast Facts About Food Allergies

Q. What are the most common food allergies in children?

A. Of the 6% to 8% of children below school age who have a food allergy, the majority are allergic to eggs, milk, and/or peanuts. Milk allergies affect about 2.5% of children, egg allergies affect 1.5%, and peanut allergies about 1%.

Other food allergies that become more common as kids reach school age are allergies to wheat and soy, shellfish, fish, and tree nuts.

Q. Do children outgrow food allergies?

A. By the time they're about 7 years old, most kids outgrow allergies to milk, wheat, and soy, but they generally do not outgrow peanut and tree nut allergies and allergies to fish and shellfish. Be aware of what allergies might be outgrown, and continue to go back to seek medical care as your child gets older to see if he or she might no longer be allergic.

Q. What predicts the severity of a food allergy?

A. There's no test that will predict the severity of a reaction. The amount of IgE antibodies produced doesn't correlate with how severe a reaction is. [Immunoglobin E antibodies (IgE) are produced in excess by allergic people.] At one point, a child may have a severe reaction, and another time, it may be much less severe. It could be due to the amount of the food they ate, whether or not it was an empty stomach, if they already had a viral infection -- all kinds of factors.

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