Food allergies in infants and children

The 10 most likely food intolerances in children include dairy, wheat, soy, citrus, nuts (peanuts), tomatoes, eggs, chocolate, corn and sugar. Others may be food additives, preservatives and food dyes.

by Dr. Christina Kovalik — 

During the first year of life, the infant diet is the most powerful determinant of the growth and development of a child, and food allergies are the most common health problem. Many studies show that breastfeeding is the best source of food. The feeding of solid foods should be delayed until a child is four to six months old to reduce the chance of food allergies.

A true allergy occurs when a whole food particle elicits an immune response. The symptoms a child presents with in response to the food determine the type of allergic reaction. Severe food allergies only affect five to eight percent of children in a mild to severe anaphylactic immediate response, such as wheezing, difficulty breathing, hives, skin rashes, nausea, vomiting, and swelling around the mouth and throat. This is most likely to occur within two hours after the offending food was ingested.

More commonly, infants and children elicit a sensitivity or intolerance to certain foods due to problems with gut permeability, trauma to the intestinal tract (from vaccines or antibiotic use) or malabsorption issues. Reactions generally take two hours to several days to appear. Eighty percent of food reactions are of this type. Many children outgrow food intolerances/allergies by age four, but a small percentage continues having sensitivities throughout adult life. It may be a little more difficult to pinpoint the offending food allergy in adults, so doing an elimination diet or blood test may be required.

GI integrity

The intestinal tract can be compromised by the overuse of antibiotics and by eating the offending foods. Antibiotics kill bacteria — good and bad — which presents a problem. The good bacteria help to colonize the GI system and build immunity.

The food (antigen) travels through the gut lumen of the small intestine and enters the bloodstream and lymph. The antigen-tainted lymphatics may travel to the skin, joints, glands, lungs, liver and other organs to stimulate an immune response. This results in various conditions like arthritis, eczema, psoriasis, asthma and cold-like symptoms. The 10 most likely food intolerances are dairy, wheat, soy, citrus, nuts (peanuts), tomatoes, eggs, chocolate, corn and sugar. Other intolerances can include food additives, preservatives and food dyes.

Symptoms of food intolerances

Infants: Crying, colic, vomiting, spitting up, diarrhea, skin rashes (diaper rash), eczema and respiratory congestion/drainage. Breastmilk is the best option. Infant formulas may stimulate an immune response if introduced before six months because they are milk based. Goat’s milk or rice milk formulas can be supplemented and given in lieu of powdered formulas. If formulas have to be used, hypoallergenic formulas should be emphasized.

If a strictly breast-fed baby has colic, it is advisable for the mother to avoid the most allergenic foods.

Adults and children: Abdominal discomfort, gasiness, vomiting, diarrhea, skin rashes and hives, sandpaper-like red facial rash, “allergic shiners” (blueish-brownish discoloration under eyes), puffiness under eyes, bright red-pink flushing of cheeks and ears. Other symptoms include nasal congestion (mouth breathing, sniffing, snorting, snoring), bed wetting, nose rubbing with horizontal crease along bridge of nose, recurrent ear infections, ear ringing and post nasal drip/phlegm, irritability, anxiety, hyperactivity, tantrums, attention/cognitive problems, and sore joints and muscles.


Skin scratch/prick test: This is the most conventional test, but not very accurate.

ELISA: This blood test looks at immune response and is very accurate.

Provocative neutralization: Extracts of allergens are introduced into the skin with an injection.


Infants: It is best to wait until six months of age to introduce solids. Introduce one food at a time (one food every three to five days). Watch for allergic symptoms. Identify the offending food and follow a nonallergenic food introduction schedule. Eliminate the suspect food for six to eight weeks, rotate or omit the offending foods for three months, then reintroduce.

Breastfed infants: Mothers should keep a diet diary, recording all meals and how the baby responded, to help identify the sensitivity. The most likely culprits are chocolate, spices, citrus, mustard, cow’s milk and other dairy products, eggs, peanuts, corn, corn syrup, wheat, soy, apples, bananas and gas-producing vegetables, such as onions, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, bell peppers and cucumbers.

If a baby is having a particularly hard time, look back one to two meal times. Certain supplements or medications may also be the problem. After avoiding the food, the baby should be better after three days.

Children/adults: Keep a diet diary. Avoid all allergenic foods for at least two weeks to one month; then add one food per week, watching for reactions. If a reaction occurs, it is best to avoid the offending food for at least three to six months and take homeopathic allergy drops.

There are many ways you can treat food allergies. If they are a chronic problem, it may be important to heal the gut lining with herbs and nutrition, and address the root emotional component.


Dr. Christina Kovalik is a naturopathic physician and licensed acupuncturist in Scottsdale, Ariz., with a special interest in assisting women and their families in achieving their health goals naturally. She is also the Director of the AMCH Fertility Clinic in Phoenix. or 602-434-7922.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 28, Number  4, Aug/Sept 2009.

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