DEAR MAYO CLINIC: Is it possible for children to outgrow food allergies?
ANSWER: Some children may outgrow their food allergies. But the likelihood of that happening depends in large part on the type of food a child is allergic to, as well the severity of the allergy.
In people who have a food allergy, the body’s immune system mistakenly identifies a specific food or part of a food as something harmful. When that happens, the immune system releases into the body immunoglobulin E, or IgE, antibodies. The next time the IgE antibodies sense that food, they cause a variety of chemicals, including histamine, to be released into the bloodstream.
Those chemicals trigger the symptoms of the food allergy, such as hives, skin or throat swelling, gastrointestinal problems, or breathing problems. In some people, a food allergy may lead to a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis. Symptoms of anaphylaxis can include the above symptoms, as well as severe tightening of the airways (causing breathing problems), rapid pulse, drop in blood pressure, and/or loss of consciousness. Without emergency medical treatment including, epinephrine, anaphylaxis may result in death.
Food allergies affect about 6 percent to 8 percent of children under age 5, and about 3 percent to 4 percent of adults. Food allergies often are confused with a much more common reaction known as food intolerance. While bothersome, a food intolerance often is less serious. Usually, its symptoms come on gradually and are limited to digestive problems. Testing generally is not available for food intolerance. A severe form of food intolerance called food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome, or FPIES, should be evaluated by an allergist or gastrointestinal specialist. Most children outgrow FPIES.
It is possible to have an allergic reaction to almost any type of food, but some foods lead to allergies more frequently than others. Of the common food allergies, milk, egg, soy and wheat allergies are the ones children most often outgrow by the time they are in their late teens.