These Are the Most Common Allergies in Children Today
Learn what foods and environmental factors could be triggering an allergic reaction in your kids.
When you hear about allergies among children, peanuts always seem to be at the top of the list. But while a peanut allergy is a buzzy topic for headlines, there are many more potentially life-threatening allergens to be aware of when it comes to keeping kiddos safe.
According to Purvi Parikh, MD, an allergist with Allergy & Asthma Network in New York, there are a couple different reasons why allergies come about in the first place. "They're part hereditary and part environmental," she explains. "Having one parent with any type of allergy increases a child's chances by 50 percent of having any type of allergy." Certain environmental factors can also increase the risk, like "cities with poor air quality or living in urban areas where there's less exposure to the good bacteria like soil and farmland."
And, as Parikh notes, allergies are only growing more prevalent. In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported food allergies in children under 18 years old increased from 3.4 percent to 5.1 percent between 1997 and 2011. During that same time period, skin allergies among those under 18 increased from 7.4 percent to 12.5 percent.
Given how common allergies are, it's a smart idea to be on the lookout for anything wrong. "The types of reactions you get as a child are potentially very different than the types of reactions you get as an adult," pediatrician Nancy Witham, MD, says in a video for Lee Health. "They might just have intractable vomiting or significant diarrhea—not the hives and the closed up throat and difficulty breathing that you might get for an older person."
Here are the most common allergies in children today.
Milk and egg allergies
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, milk and eggs are the most common allergens in infants and young children. A milk allergy can cause a range of responses, from wheezing, vomiting, hives, and digestive issues to anaphylaxis. Egg allergies, on the other hand, typically cause skin rashes, hives, nasal congestion, and vomiting. Anaphylaxis can occur, but that's rarer.
These allergens are "the most common culprits for eczema, but sometimes children can have life-threatening reactions to them as well," Parikh says. "The good news is most kids outgrow them."
When you think of allergies in kids, you probably think of peanuts. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, approximately 0.6 percent of American children have a peanut allergy.
We're probably so focused on peanut allergies, because, as Parikh notes, they can be life-threatening. In fact, even a very small amount could result in anaphylaxis. "It's a harder allergy to outgrow, but new desensitization treatments are on the horizon to help patients become less allergic to peanuts," she says.
Tree nut allergies
While peanut allergies are common among kids, you have to watch out for tree nuts, too. "It's increased two- to threefold in the past two decades," Parikh says. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, it's specifically the second most common allergy in infants and young children, and 0.4 to 0.5 percent of kids have it. That doesn't just mean avoiding all tree nuts—including almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, and other hard-shelled nuts—but also any packaged food marked with "may contain tree nuts."
"Allergic reactions to tree nuts as well as peanuts—which are not nuts but legumes—can be quite severe, and they are generally thought to be lifelong," pediatric allergist Robert Wood, MD, said in a statement. According to Wood's 2005 research, 9 percent of children allergic to tree nuts outgrow their allergy over time, including those who've had a reaction as severe as anaphylactic shock.
Fish and shellfish allergies
Allergies to fish and shellfish—like crab, lobster, shrimp—are also common in children, and they can result in a very serious reaction. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, these allergies occur when the immune system overreacts to the proteins in the fish or shellfish. Symptoms can range from vomiting, swelling, hives, and diarrhea to anaphylaxis.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America notes "shellfish is the third most common food allergy to cause anaphylaxis," but according to their research, that's less common in children. While the rate of anaphylaxis due to a shrimp allergy in adults is 44 percent, the rate in children is 7.8 percent.
Unfortunately, fish and shellfish allergies generally last your entire life. Once they arise, they're there for good.
Soy allergies start early. They affect 0.4 percent of American children, per the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. According to the Mayo Clinic, this allergy commonly shows up in infancy when a baby reacts to soy-based formula. The symptoms are typically hives and itchiness in and around the mouth, but in rare cases anaphylaxis can occur. When a soy allergy is present, avoiding it isn't easy. All products containing soy must be cut out of their diet, and that's tough because soy is found in many packaged foods.
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology, wheat allergies are most common in children and are typically outgrown by adulthood—about 65 percent of children with a wheat allergy will outgrow it by the time they are 12.
Parikh says there are two types of wheat allergies you should be aware of. "There's an immediate life-threatening form similar to other allergens, and an autoimmune form called celiac disease," she explains. "The first can be outgrown, and luckily most children do. However, celiac disease is an autoimmune condition that must be managed and monitored lifelong. If it's not properly managed, it can lead to complications such as lymphomas."
Seasonal allergies affect millions of Americans every year, kids included, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. "If you notice itchy, watery eyes, a stuffy/runny nose, cough, wheeze, sore throat, and congestion in a seasonal pattern—fall and spring—it may be allergies," Parikh says. "Itchy rashes—like hives or eczema—are also triggered by seasonal allergens." Also important to note: Colds or cold symptoms that last many weeks may actually be an allergy instead of an infection, so be sure to bring this up with your child's pediatrician.
There's nothing worse than realizing your kid is allergic to pets, especially when they want nothing more than to have a furry best friend. The Mayo Clinic defines pet allergies as "allergic response to the proteins found in a cat or dog's skin cells, saliva, or urine," but it's most often triggered by exposure to pet dander. "When the child is around a pet, the symptoms are similar to what they would experience with seasonal allergies," Parikh says. Good news, though: A 2018 study from PLOS One found that infants who lived with cats or dogs during their first year of life were less likely to wind up with pet allergies.
The CDC reports that cases of skin allergies have increased by more than 5 percent between 1997 and 2011 in those under 18 years old. Luckily, the prevalence tends to decrease with age. Even though skin allergies aren't fun to deal with, they are typically easy to identify due to the very visible reaction that occurs.
Parikh says eczema and hives can be triggered by seasonal allergies, pets, food, medicine, and more. But if a child is experiencing hives, there could be another common cause. "Hives can also sometimes be triggered by viruses or infections, especially in children," she explains. "So if they're sick at the same time a rash breaks out, it's most likely that it's from the underlying infection."