Some people can have an allergic reaction from eating a food that contains a component they are allergic to. This fact sheet explains food allergy.
What is food allergy?
A food allergy is a reaction a person has when they eat a food that contains a component they are allergic to. These are called allergens. The body's immune system makes chemicals that react with the allergen. This causes the reaction.
Babies and children have food allergies more often than adults. Most food allergies start in the first year of life. Most children will grow out of it by the age of 10.
Some people can have a reaction to a food but it is not caused by their body making these chemicals. This is called food intolerance. Food aversion is when someone avoids a food because they are sensitive to it. This is not the same as food allergy.
Foods that often cause allergic reactions
- Nuts (especially peanuts)
- Fish and seafood (oysters, mussels, clam, squid, prawns)
- Cow's milk
- Soy products
Reactions to food can range from a mild skin rash to a life-threatening attack. This attack is called anaphylaxis.
Signs of mild or moderate allergic reaction
- Stomach pain
- Itchy skin
- Swelling of face, lips or eyes
Signs of severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis)
- Hard to breathe
- Wheezing or coughing
- Swelling in mouth or throat
- Pale and floppy
These signs can occur within seconds to hours or days after eating the food.
Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency and needs urgent medical help. Call Triple Zero (000) immediately.
Breastfeeding and infant formula feeding
- Excluding foods from the diet of breastfeeding mothers is not recommended. This has not been shown to prevent allergies in babies and may mean that you and your baby do not get the right amount of nutrition.
- If you are unable to breastfeed your baby, cow's milk–based formula is the most suitable option. Special or soy-based formulas will not prevent food allergy and only need to be used for medical reasons. They should only be used with advice from a health professional.
Introducing complementary foods
If your baby or young child has any signs of an allergic reaction to a food, the food should be stopped until seeking medical help. Seek help from a doctor straight away for a medical assessment and diagnosis before permanently removing any food from your child's diet.
Allergies can be caused by factors other than food.
- Dust, pollen, pet hair and medicines can cause allergy.
- Cutting out food from your baby or child's diet can be hard and costly. It might also not be needed. It is important to see your doctor to find out what is causing the allergy before changing your child's diet.
- If food is the cause, your doctor will talk to you about whether your child needs to stop eating the food.
Most babies will not have any reactions to new foods. Babies with a family member who has a food allergy may be at an increased risk, but it does not run in the family. Seek medical advice before starting complementary foods if you are concerned.
What can I do if my child has a food allergy?
Food allergies are not the same for each person. Your doctor or allergy specialist may do an allergy assessment and some tests. They will talk to you about the best way to manage your child's food allergy. This might include removing the food from the diet, and carrying an EpiPen in case of anaphylaxis. Most children grow out of food allergies over time; however, this depends on the allergy.
Help and assistance
If you are experiencing a severe allergic reaction, please call Triple Zero (000) immediately.
If you have any other symptoms suggesting an allergic reaction or concerns about allergies, contact one of our registered nurses at 13 HEALTH by phoning 13 43 25 84.
Resources for parents, families and carers
Fact sheet: Food Allergy, The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy
Food allergy overview, The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy
This fact sheet draws on information from:
- Children's Health Queensland Hospital and Health Service 2015, Child health information: Your guide to the first 12 months.
- Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy 2016, Food allergy.
This fact sheet is also the result of input and effort from many health professionals in Queensland. Their assistance with the content is greatly appreciated.
This information is provided as general information only and should not be relied upon as professional or medical advice. Professional and medical advice should be sought for particular health concerns or events. Best efforts have been used to develop this information, which is considered correct and current in accordance with accepted best practice in Queensland as at the date of production. The State of Queensland (Queensland Health) does not accept liability to any person for the information provided in this fact sheet nor does it warrant that the information will remain correct and current. The State of Queensland (Queensland Health) does not promote, endorse or create any association with any third party by publication or use of any references or terminology in this fact sheet.