Pediatric Food Allergies
Food allergies are on the rise. According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies among children increased approximately 50 percent between 1997 and 2011. Today, up to 8 percent of children are affected by a food allergy —that’s about two kids in every classroom.
Experts in Pediatric Food Allergies
If your child has a known or suspected food allergy, find top-quality care at UNC Children’s. You’ll benefit from the skill and experience of board-certified allergists, including Wesley Burks, MD, an internationally recognized expert in pediatric food allergies, who accept referrals from physicians across the country.
Living With Food Allergies
Our specialists understand the daily stress of caring for a child with a severe food allergy. We’ll help you, your child, and your child’s caregivers:
- Meet your child's nutritional and developmental goals
- Understand what triggers an allergic reaction through accurate diagnosis
- Learn how to read food labels and manage potentially risky situations
- Know what to do in case of accidental exposure
With effective food allergy care, you and your child will be able to participate in everyday activities like attending school and birthday parties and traveling with less worry.
Allergies We Treat
Food Allergies We Treat
Find expert diagnosis and treatment for food allergies affecting children, including:
- Tree nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts, and others)
We also treat related conditions, including eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE) and food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome (FPIES), allergic immune reactions to foods that occur in the digestive tract only.
Allergy or Intolerance?
Food Allergy or Food Intolerance?
If your child has a food allergy, his or her immune system reacts to a specific protein in a food. The immune system mistakes the protein for a harmful substance and tries to fight it off. Reactions can range from mild to life-threatening.
If your child has a food intolerance, his or her digestive system isn’t able to properly break down, or digest, the food. This can cause uncomfortable symptoms like nausea, cramps, bloating, and diarrhea. The immune system isn’t involved.
For example, when a child has a milk allergy, the immune system tries to attack a protein in cow’s milk. If s/he is lactose intolerant, the body is unable to digest milk, because the digestive tract is missing the enzyme that breaks down lactose, a sugar found in milk.
Learn more by reading our pediatric food allergy Q&A with Dr. Burks.
Diagnosing A Food Allergy
If you’re not sure whether your child has a food allergy or another type of food disorder, the board-certified allergists at UNC Children’s can provide answers.
Your child’s allergist will conduct a physical exam, get information about your child’s medical history, and ask about his or her symptoms. Then, your doctor may also recommend diagnostic tests, such as:
- Allergy skin test – Places a tiny amount of a food allergen on to the skin to test for reactivity
- Allergy blood test – Detects the specific IgE antibodies that cause allergies
- Oral food challenge – Definitively tests your child for food allergies by gradually exposing him or her to increasing amounts of a particular food to see if it causes an allergic reaction
Please note that drug skin testing and oral food challenges are procedures that take several hours and are therefore unable to be done at an initial appointment.
Finding New Treatments for Food Allergies
The standard treatment for a food allergy is avoiding foods that cause an allergic reaction. But when you choose UNC Children’s for pediatric food allergy care, your child may have access to promising new therapies not yet widely available.
Since 2012, the UNC Food Allergy Initiative has studied how a regular “dose” of a food allergen, such as a peanut or an egg, can increase an immune system’s tolerance for that allergen. These therapies—oral immunotherapy (OIT) and sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT)—may prevent life-threatening allergic reactions by increasing the amount of the food a child can tolerate.
Six Year Old Now Enjoys Peanuts
Jonathan is among the 1.4 percent of U.S. children allergic to peanuts. Once terrified of accidental exposure, the 6 year old now regularly enjoys peanuts as a snack, all thanks to an innovative clinical trial through the UNC Food Allergy Initiative.