Allergic to School?

The school year has started yet again and I am sure many of you parents are both stressed and relieved.    Relieved because you don’t have to find constant activities for your highly energetic and wildly curious child, but stressed because your child may have a history of struggling in school.

One of the primary jobs of a child psychiatrist is to work with a child and family to try to understand learning or behavior struggles in school. In evaluating a child who is struggling, an area that may be over­looked but of great importance is an allergy problem.

There are many different types of allergies; pollen, grass, moss, etc, but for purposes of this article I would like to focus on food allergies. It is estimated that food allergies occur in children at a rate of 2­3% of the population.

Common examples of how food allergies may affect a child are through skin hives, sneezing, headaches or stomach upset, wheezing or runny nose. Additionally, it is estimated that 20% of infant colic is due to soy or milk allergies. Food allergies may also affect behavior. Children with food allergies may often feel down or depressed. They may have rapid mood swings, happy one moment and then suddenly angry, mean, perhaps even filled with rage. Behavior may be erratic and “goofy”. Sleep problems are also a potential complication of food allergies.    Food allergies may also cause hyperactivity and concentration problems that are often diagnosed as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Children with food allergies may struggle in school and appear to hate school and to have learning problems.

Although behavior and learning problems related to food allergies are rare, they are something that you don’t want to miss, especially because they can be treated and significant improvement can be achieved. If you are concerned about these things, make sure you discuss this with your pediatrician or other provider.    Important aspects of a child’s history would be that he or she has a history of being an unhappy baby, poor sleeper, and had colic that lasted greater than four months.    One way to further assess food allergies include keeping a food record in which you can track exactly what your child eats and how he or she responds over a three to four day period.

Another method to track down allergies is the elimination diet. It is tricky but can be very helpful. In this, you try to eliminate certain ingredients from the diet (start with common allergens such as dairy products, soy, egg whites, wheat, peanuts, citrus fruits, shellfish, and food additives). The ingredients should be eliminated one at a time for 10­ 14 days and then behavior problems etc can be tracked.

I would recommend enlisting the help of a dietician or nutritionist in going about doing the elimination diet or even the food tracking method. A nutritionist will also be able to provide a comprehensive list of common allergens and help you re­introduce foods to challenge your findings and help secure true food allergies or intolerance. The nutritionist can also help with recommendations of what your child can eat.

You may also get skin and blood testing done and should talk to your pediatrician about that.

If your child is struggling in school is he or she really allergic to school? I doubt it. It may, however, be very beneficial to talk to your pediatrician about food allergies.

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