How do you know if your baby has a food allergy?

Sometimes it’s easy to figure out that a kid has a food allergy. He or she might get hives or have other problems after eating it. But other times, what’s causing the problem is more of a mystery. Most foods have more than one ingredient, so if a kid has shrimp with peanut sauce, what’s causing the allergy—the peanut sauce or the shrimp?

Doctors believe that allergies could be hereditary, which means if your parent or another close relative has certain allergies like hay fever, you’re more likely to develop the allergies. Some kids may develop food allergies while they are still babies, while others develop food allergies over time. This may be due to someone’s surroundings or changes in the body as they grow older.

Many people react to a certain food but are not actually allergic. For example, people with lactose intolerance get belly pain and diarrhea from milk and other dairy products. That doesn’t mean they’re allergic to milk. They don’t feel good after drinking milk because their bodies can’t properly break down the sugars found in milk.

If you think you may be allergic to a certain food, let your parents know. They will take you to the doctor to get it checked out.

If your doctor thinks you might have a food allergy, he or she will probably send you to see a doctor who specializes in allergies. The allergy specialist will ask you about past reactions and how long it takes between eating the food and getting the symptom (such as hives). The allergist also may ask about whether anyone else in your family has allergies or other allergy-related conditions, such as eczema or asthma.

The allergist might want to do a skin test. This is a way of seeing how your body reacts to a very small amount of the food that is giving you trouble. The allergist will use a liquid extract of the food and, possibly, other common allergy-causing foods to see if you react to any of them. (A liquid extract is a liquid version of something that usually isn’t liquid.)

The doctor will make a little scratch on your skin (it will be a quick pinch) and drop a little of the liquid extract on the scratched spot or spots. Different extracts will go on the different scratch spots so the doctor can see how your skin reacts to each substance. If you get a reddish, raised spot, it shows that you are allergic to that food or substance.

Some doctors may also take a blood sample and send it to a lab. That’s where it will be mixed with some of the food or substance you may be allergic to and checked for certain antibodies.

It’s important to remember that even though the doctor tests for food allergies by exposing you to a very small amount of the food, you should not try this at home! The best place for an allergy test is at the doctor’s office, where the staff is specially trained and could give you medicine right away if you had a serious reaction.


What will the doctor do?


How can you manage your toddler’s food allergy?​

Managing a food allergy in children or babies can be stressful not only for the child but also for the parents. There are 3 key things to be on top of when it comes to managing a food allergy:


Weaning and food allergy

The Department of Health recommends that high allergenic foods (milk, eggs, wheat, gluten, soy, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, seeds) be introduced from 6 months of age. There is no evidence to support delaying introduction of these foods after 6 months. They should be introduced one at a time, with a gap of 3 days in between each new food, so that it is easier to identify any food that causes a reaction. Make sure your child is well at the time of introduction, i.e., not when he or she has a temperature, has just had a vaccination, or has a cough or a cold.

Once your baby has had several attempts at eating the individual foods, you can start mixing them to increase the variety and enjoyment of eating. It may be helpful to keep a food and symptom diary (a food diary template can be found at the bottom of the page) to identify any foods that may have triggered a reaction. By the age of12 months at the latest, your baby should have been introduced to all the major allergenic foods (where appropriate).


Recognise the symptoms of an allergic reaction


Identify and avoid the cause (if possible)


Know what
to do if it happens again


How can you talk to toddler about their
food allergy?

Through clear communication, youcan help your child understand what it means to have a food allergy and how to stay safe.


A food allergy diagnosis can be overwhelming enough for an adult. This experience is even more daunting for a child. Young children may struggle to comprehend what is going on with
their bodies and not have the words to fully describe how they feel physically or emotionally.


Through clear communication, you can help your child understand what it means to have a food allergy and how to stay safe. This is a skill that will serve him or her well in the future.

Start simple

For young children, introduce a few concepts at a time. Start with the most important things they should know to be safe:

  • First, explain that certain foods can make them very sick. Use simple terms such as “safe food” and “unsafe food.”

  • Next, teach them the names of unsafe foods and what they commonly look like. Point out gallons of milk, cartons of eggs, or bags of peanuts in the grocery store. Show them pictures of foods that are unsafe foods online, in books, or in magazines.

  • Then, teach them to only eat foods given to them by their parents or other trusted adults. These other people can be a babysitter or grandparent—anyone who knows about their food allergies and is trusted to care for them.

  • Finally, they should know to find an adult if they feel sick or need help. You can also explain your emergency plan in case they have an allergic reaction. Tell them this means giving them medicine and then going to the doctor.

Keep calm

Some parents may, understandably, feel anxious or fearful about allergic reactions because they know that allergic reactions can be life-threatening. Remember, children watch their parents to understand how to react to stressful situations. So your children may feel nervous or fearful themselves if they observe these feelings in you.

It is, of course, important that your child realizes food allergies are serious. But it is equally important that you try to remain calm when discussing their allergies. You do not want to unnecessarily scare them.

When you have a positive tone about food allergies, children will follow your lead.

Involve your child

It’s tempting to manage food allergies for your child in a “behind the scenes” fashion. But it’s important that children appreciate why you do certain things to keep them safe.

Involve your child from an early age. Openly model food allergy management behaviors, such as reading food labels and always carrying epinephrine auto-injectors. This will help them learn from your behavior and teach them skills they will use as they grow older. For example:

  • Use “we” rather than “I” statements: “We should read the ingredients to be sure this food won’t make you sick.”

  • Explain food allergy management out loud. A simple statement before leaving the house such as “We have our medicine kit with us, so now we’re ready to leave!” can help reinforce that you do not go anywhere without their medication.

  • Involve your children in grocery shopping and making meals that are safe for him or her to eat.

  • Prompt your child to show others his or her medical identification. This is a good way to get him or her used to telling others about food allergies.

Make it a part of your everyday conversation

Food allergies affect the whole family, not just the child. Talk to them about their experiences. Help them to understand that a food allergy is a unique part of who they are. Role-play scenarios. Cook allergy-friendly recipes together. Don’t be afraid to have an open dialogue with your child! Remember, knowledge is power. An open dialogue will better prepare your food-allergic child to navigate the road ahead. 

Find friends

Kids who have food allergies may feel that they are different because of it. Emphasize that there are millions of children and adults who have food allergies just like them—in fact, 1 in 13 kids in the U.S. has a food allergy.


Help them identify and connect with peers and role models with food allergies. One way of doing this is by getting your child involved with community activities and events, such as the FARE’s Food Allergy Heroes Walk.


Another idea is to join an online or in-person support group. A group like this can provide advice specific to your community, such as suggestions for local restaurants, products and events. Search FARE’s support group directory for a group in your area.

Find tools and resources

There are many tools and resources out there for newly diagnosed families. A great way to start is with a book. There are a great many allergy-themed children’s books out there, including Food Allergies and Me, Nutley the Nut Free Squirrel, and Blue: The Monkey who was Allergic to Bananas. You can also get them a medical ID bracelet—many brands now carry fashionable and fun medical jewelry. Or learn about allergies on TV.

Cook with them


Maureen Healy, PhD, child development expert also suggests encouraging kids to help out in the kitchen, particularly once they’re in grade school. Not only will they have a head start when they have to start cooking for themselves, but they’ll also have a better grasp of what they can and can’t eat. They will be better aware of substitutions they can make, as well.

Help them learn how to discuss their allergies


Teaching children the language they need to explain their allergy to other children and adults is another way to empower them.


“First, parents need to make sure they understand what the allergen will do to the child. Then, give them the right words to explain that,” says asthma and allergy specialist Dr. Noga Askenazi . “For instance, if peanuts will cause anaphylaxis, teach your child to say ‘Peanuts will cause my throat to get tight’ or ‘Peanuts will affect my breathing.’”

What is the difference between a food allergy, a food intolerance, and a food poisoning?


Shared symptoms


A food allergy and an intolerance both can cause:


  • Nausea

  • Stomach pain

  • Diarrhea

  • Vomiting

Food allergies happen when the immune system makes a mistake. Normally, your immune system protects you from germs and disease. It does this by making antibodies that help you fight off bacteria, viruses, and other tiny organisms that can make you sick. But if you have a food allergy, your immune system mistakenly treats something in a certain food as if it’s really dangerous to you.

Food intolerance is much more common than food allergy and is not caused by the immune system. The onset of symptoms is usually slower, and it may be delayed by many hours after eating the offending food. The symptoms may also last for several hours, even into the next day and sometimes longer. Intolerance to several foods or a group of foods is not uncommon, and it can be much more difficult to decide whether food intolerance is the cause of chronic illness, and which foods or substances may be responsible.

Food poisoning is a result of consuming food that was not fully cooked or is otherwise contaminated with bacteria. The symptoms can develop rapidly, within 30 minutes, or slowly, worsening over days to weeks. Usually food poisoning is not serious and lasts 24-48 hours.

Usually comes on suddenly


  • Small amount of food can trigger

  • Happens every time you eat the food

  • Can be life-threatening

Usually comes on gradually

  • May only happen when you eat a lot of the food

  • May only happen if you eat the food often

  • Is not life-threatening

Usually comes on gradually


  • May only happen when you eat not fully cooked food or the food may be contaminated with bacteria

  • Is not life-threatening

  • Is not serious and lasts 24-48 hours.

Different symptoms


  • Rash, hives, or itchy skin

  • Shortness of breath

  • Chest pain

  • Sudden drop in blood pressure, trouble swallowing or breathing -- this is life-threatening. Call 911 immediately.

Different symptoms

  • Gas, cramps, or bloating

  • Heartburn

  • Headaches

  • Irritability or nervousness

Different symptoms


  • Abdominal cramping

  • Fever