Food intolerance: what are the symptoms that allow to spot it in a child?

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Restlessness, refusal of the bottle, nausea… A food intolerance can cause different symptoms in a young child. These signs are however not always obvious to spot. We make the point with Doctor Faïza Bossy, general practitioner.

A food intolerance is characterized by a reaction of the digestive system when a person consumes a particular food. The ingestion of the food product may cause a reaction in the intestines, stomach, esophagus or colon. Infants or young children may be affected by lactose, egg or nut intolerance.

“In the case of food intolerance, the body does not produce the enzyme that allows it to metabolize the product or the chemical additive contained in the food. Lactose intolerance in a child is due to the fact that the child does not make enough lactase. The lactose does not break down normally and he becomes intolerant,” explains Dr. Faïza Bossy, general practitioner. Food intolerance can however be reversible. As a child grows up, the enzyme deficiency can be reversed.

Unlike a food allergy, the body’s reaction is not immediate after a food intolerance. With an allergy, the immune system reacts directly after eating the allergen. The person may become red, swollen and small pimples may appear on the face and body.

What are the symptoms of food intolerance?

Food intolerance is sometimes difficult to spot, especially in young children. However, there are several signs that can alert parents. “The child is generally not very well a few hours after eating the food”, explains Dr. Faïza Bossy. The child can be agitated, refuse the bottle, twist his stomach or be aggressive. He may also suffer from digestive problems such as colic, gastric reflux or nausea.

“These symptoms are not straightforward. Food intolerance is therefore difficult to identify. It is necessary for parents to be attentive to the types of food they give to their child. When we suspect food intolerance, we ask them to always give the same food to their child in order to know if it causes a reaction,” says the health professional.

How is a food intolerance diagnosed?

In the case of an allergy, “it is not always obvious to have the right test for the right allergen, even if the batteries of tests have become larger. It is possible that the allergen causing the allergy cannot be determined,” says Faïza Bossy. The tests are usually performed in a hospital with the presence of an allergist. Allergen patches are placed on different areas of the patient’s body and the health professional observes whether or not a skin reaction occurs.

For food intolerance, there are few tests that can identify the element causing the digestive system reaction. “The patches trigger the immune system with an allergenic potential. The sessions are usually spaced out, as they are very tiring. These tests are done in a hospital setting, as the patient may develop edema. It is therefore better to be in a hospital, but the follow-up can then take place in town”, indicates the practitioner. Before adding, “For food intolerance, all tests can be negative, because the immune system is not stimulated.”

The diagnosis of food intolerance then relies on therapeutic testing. Parents are asked to remove a food from the diet when they feel it is causing a reaction in the child. “It’s based on observation. We see if the situation improves or not once the food is removed,” clarifies Faïza Bossy.

Food intolerance: what precautions should be taken in a child?

According to Dr. Faïza Bossy, it is necessary to avoid the food product causing the intolerance. “Around the age of three, we can try to reintroduce it in small doses in the diet. This intolerance may be due to an immaturity of the organism. So we will let the child grow up and try again later. But it is possible that there is a real enzymatic deficit. In this case, the child should no longer consume this food”, adds the practitioner.

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