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Food Allergies: What You Need to Know

Food allergies are on the rise. So, even if you don’t have a child with a food allergy, you should be educated about them. It’s likely your child will be in a classroom with a food allergic child or invite one to his birthday party. My daughter’s last birthday party cake had to be gluten and dairy free (and actually, it wasn’t bad!).

So, here’s the 411:

Q. What is the #1 food allergy?
A. Cow’s milk. While peanut allergy is the top lifelong food allergy, a higher percentage of children are actually allergic to cow’s milk.

Q. If a child is allergic to milk, can he have lactose-free milk or Lactaid?
A. No. This is a trick question. People are allergic to the cow’s milk PROTEIN. Lactose is the SUGAR found in milk, so lactose-free cow’s milk still contains cow’s milk protein. Some people have an intolerance to the milk sugar (lactose) which can cause gas and bloating…but a “lactose intolerance” does not cause lip swelling, hives, eczema, or any other serious allergic reaction.

Q. Can a child outgrow a food allergy?
A. Yes. In fact, most children do outgrow food allergies…particularly if they are allergic to cow’s milk or soy products. But, people who have peanut or treenut allergies are the least likely to outgrow them.

Q. If a child is peanut-allergic, can he have other nuts?
A. Yes. Sorry, this is another trick question! Peanuts are not really nuts. They are legumes. They grow in the soil. Treenuts, like walnuts, pecans, or cashews, grow in trees – hence the name. Peanuts and treenuts are completely different types of allergies. But, there are some food allergies that do go hand in hand. For instance, a person who is allergic to cashews might also be allergic to mangos and pistachios.

Q. How can I make a food allergic friend feel comfortable eating at our home?
A. Prepare foods from scratch so you can guarantee it is okay or purchase prepared foods that list the allergy facts on the label. The good news: with increased demand, even traditional grocery store chains stock cake mixes to make a tasty gluten and dairy free birthday cake!

- Ari Brown, MD, FAAP

WebMD Parenting & Children’s Health Newsletter – Must-have children’s health news in your inbox.


The opinions expressed in WebMD Second Opinion are solely those of the User, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of WebMD. Second Opinion are... Expand


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