How to Detect if a Child Has a Food Sensitivity or Allergy

Food sensitivities and allergies are on the rise in children. Between 1997 and 2011, food allergies in children increased by 50 percent, affecting approximately 5.9 million children in the United States alone. While statistics focus specifically on food allergies, they exclude the many children who experience food sensitivities, which can be very unpleasant for children. And the underlying message is that more and more kids are reacting to foods they are consuming.


There are a few defining differences between food sensitivity and a food allergy reactions. The first distinction is the immediacy of the reaction. Food allergies appear quickly and are usually quite notable such as coughing, sneezing, or vomiting. Food sensitivities can be more subtle and can often take hours to emerge. Another difference is that with allergies, there is a histamine response whereas with sensitivities this is not the case. When suffering from a food sensitivity, the person can exhibit a variety of reactions as s/he responds negatively to the food.


Although parents may be aware of potential of food reactions, many are still confused as to how to spot the signs. Oftentimes, parents are under the impression that a food reaction will only manifest through more traditional symptoms such as breathing difficulties or skin rashes. In addition to these obvious signs that the body is reacting to something, there are also more subtle indications that the body may not be responding well to a food.

In order to properly determine whether or not a child is reacting to foods they have eaten, it is important for parents to be aware of all the different ways food sensitivities and allergies manifest. Below are a number of likely indicators that your child may not be tolerating a particular food or a group of foods well.


If your baby or child is vomiting regularly – in the absence of fever and other signs of infection – this usually indicates a reaction to a food she/he has eaten.

Frequent Runny Stools

When children are still in diapers, it is harder to tell if stools are runny. Note if the stools appear more watery on occasions when suspect foods are consumed and if other signs of sensitivity are present.

Not Gaining Weight

If children are sensitive to foods they are eating, their bodies will often try to eliminate the food quickly. This will impair the proper digestion and absorption of food and thus can have a negative impact on healthy weight gain.


The appearance of skin rashes is a very common sign that your child is reacting to something. This reaction can be due to many factors such as foods, clothing, detergents, and body care products so it is wise to consider all of these sources as possible irritants.

Breathing Problems

When we are exposed to allergens, our respiratory system attempts to rid the body of them. During this process, the lungs secrete mucous, and this is why children with allergies are often congested and have runny noses.

Frequent Crying or Colic

When babies or toddlers have digestive discomfort due to a food sensitivity or allergy, they will often express it through crying or colic. Since they lack the verbal skills to properly communicate the reality of their pain, they rely on crying to try to get the message across.

Other Signs

Other signs of a potential reaction to food to keep your eye on are: bed-wetting, attention and behavior problems, eczema, fatigue, constipation, dark circles under eyes, gas, ear infections, and regular headaches. If you suspect a food allergy or sensitivity, it is wise to remove the food from the diet entirely. If symptoms improve, that will be the confirmation that the food was in fact problematic for your child.


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