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Food allergies

Some children experience unpleasant reactions after eating certain foods. They might be sick, have diarrhoea, cough or wheeze or get an itchy rash or eczema, but they often outgrow these food sensitivities. However, some foods may cause a reaction so severe that it is life-threatening. Thankfully, this affects very few children.

The foods most likely to cause a problem for small children are often the ones they first meet at weaning. So it’s sensible to avoid giving these foods until a baby is at least six months old.

Serious allergies to nuts, nut products and some seeds affect less than 1% of the population. For those who are most at risk (people with allergies such as hayfever, asthma and eczema in the family) it may be best to avoid these foods.

Peanut allergy is a particular concern. For children who are at risk of peanut allergy (i.e. those whose parents or siblings suffer from hayfever, asthma, eczema or any food allergy), the advice is to avoid giving peanuts and foods containing peanut products (e.g. peanut butter, unrefined groundnut oil and some snacks, etc.) until the child is three years old. Read food labels carefully and, if you are still in doubt about the contents, avoid these foods.

If you suspect that your child may be reacting to a food, always seek medical advice. Don’t be tempted to experiment by cutting out a major food such as milk. Your child’s diet may not provide all the necessary nutrients. Talk about your worries with your doctor and health visitor, who may refer you to a qualified dietitian.

If you suspect your child may be susceptible to food allergic reaction, contact your GP who can refer the child to a specialist clinic.

For advice you can contact the National Asthma Campaign Helpline (0845 7010203) or the British Allergy Foundation at Deepdene House, 30 Bellegrove Road, Welling, Kent DA16 3PY, Tel:020 8303 8525.


We are indebted to Health Promotion England for their help in compiling this section.