The thought of food allergies can cause anxiety for many parents. Introducing highly allergenic foods like peanuts and shellfish for the first time to a toddler can bring a lot of stress, and sometimes a trip to the hospital. But what about food sensitivities? Many children (and adults) have food intolerances that aren't full blown allergies, but can still affect overall health and make your baby pretty uncomfortable.
Food sensitivities are regulated by a different immune cell than allergies, and can produce very different symptoms. Allergies lead to a typical reaction that is often immediate and can cause hives and anaphylaxis, or the mild symptoms of seasonal allergies like itchy eyes and runny nose.
Sensitivities, on the other hand, are a delayed reaction (up to a few days) that can cause a number of different reactions and exacerbate other conditions. As a naturopathic doctor, I often help people identify and manage food sensitivities, and make their systems less reactive to that food.
Although everyone is different, one of the most common sensitivities I see is dairy, especially in kids. Keep in mind this is different from lactose intolerance. Your child can have a dairy sensitivity with or without lactose intolerance.
Here are some of the signs that your child may have a dairy sensitivity:
1. Tummy troubles.
Digestive upset is one of the most obvious signs that your child has a food sensitivity. Many babies and kids experience digestive symptoms, but this doesn’t mean it's "normal." Tummy aches, gassiness, constipation, and diarrhea can all be signs that your child has a food sensitivity, and doing a trial run of a dairy-free diet can give you some important insight into whether this may be the cause.
This dry, itchy rash is common in babies and children, and is caused by an underlying immune system dysfunction. Cow’s dairy is the most common food allergen for children who suffer from eczema, and removing dairy from your child’s diet can dramatically reduce the severity of the rash, and sometimes even clear up completely.
Asthma has the same underlying dysfunction as eczema. Dairy is mucus-forming, and the increased mucus production can contribute to the inflammation and mucus already present in kids with asthma. The additional inflammation and mucus may block airways even more, and worsen the symptoms of asthma.
4. Snotty nose.
It's completely normal, and even healthy for kids to get the occasional cold. But when your child constantly has a snotty nose, even when they’re not sick, you should start to think about why. Since dairy is very mucus-forming, this can be a telling sign that your child has a dairy sensitivity. Reducing or eliminating dairy can therefore help clear up the stuffiness.
Food sensitivities aren't always the cause of these health conditions, but they can be a huge contributing factor, and addressing them can make your child feel a whole lot better. It’s also important to remember that every child is different, so not all kids with these symptoms have a dairy sensitivity, and not all kids with a dairy sensitivity have these common symptoms, but it can be a good place to start.
Seek the help of a registered health professional like a naturopathic doctor or a nutritionist if you need guidance on removing dairy, or are looking for other strategies to help address these concerns.