Redness can be a symptom of a food allergy. But it could be another type of skin rash. Learn how to tell when redness is caused by a food allergy, and how to tell the difference between a food allergy reaction and other types of skin redness.
Redness can be a symptom of a food allergy. It’s often accompanied by other allergic reaction symptoms, like hives. If your child experiences redness and no other symptoms, it still could be a sign of a food allergy. But it could be another type of skin rash. Today, we’ll cover how to tell when redness is caused by a food allergy, and how to tell the difference between a food allergy reaction and other types of skin redness.
Redness from a Food Allergy
Like all other symptoms of a food allergy reaction, if a food allergy causes redness, it will appear seconds to minutes after someone eats the food they are allergic to, and almost always within two hours.
Redness from a food allergy could appear with or without a raised rash.
Most often, the redness caused by a food allergy will surround hives, also known as a food allergy rash. Hives are the most common symptom of a food allergy reaction. They are raised, itchy bumps that are usually red, and that are often surrounded by a red flare.
Hives tend to appear in clusters, and could appear anywhere on the skin. They could either appear in one concentrated area or all over the body.
Clusters of hives may cause skin areas to look blotchy. If areas of baby's skin look red and blotchy, check to see if parts of these blotches are raised. If they have raised areas, they are probably hives.
In some cases, a raised food allergy rash may still have a subtle red hue, or a darker red hue, when it appears on a person with brown or Black skin. But often, food allergy rashes aren't red on babies with darker skin. The rashes often appear in the color of baby's skin instead.
Sometimes, though, food allergies cause skin redness without hives (redness with no raised rash). This redness may appear around the mouth area, or on other areas of the face, because this is near where baby first came in contact with the allergen. If so, the red spots will also be itchy.
Someone’s nose may also turn red during a food allergy reaction. This will be accompanied by itchiness, and likely be accompanied by congestion.
And skin redness could appear on other areas of the body, usually with other food allergy symptoms.
If your child already has eczema, a food allergy reaction may cause the red, itchy rash of eczema to flare up, or get noticeably worse. However, food allergies don’t cause eczema to newly appear, and eczema flare-ups can be due to any number of causes.
Most concerningly, a food allergy reaction may cause swelling. If a food allergy causes swelling, it often causes redness in the swollen area, because of extra blood flow in the swollen area. Food allergies can cause swelling (and resulting redness) on the face, lips, eyes, or throat. Throat swelling, and the redness that results, is a sign that an allergic reaction has turned severe.
How to know if a food allergy caused redness?
Even though food allergies cause these types of redness, redness on the face or elsewhere on the body doesn’t always mean that your child is experiencing a food allergy reaction.
Pay attention to:
- Whether your child is experiencing other symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as hives and vomiting
- Whether the redness (and other symptoms) appeared soon after your child ate a certain food – food allergy symptoms happen seconds to 2 hours after consumption
- Whether the redness looks, emerges, or behaves like another type of rash
- How long the redness lasts – hives and other food allergy redness usually lasts several hours, up to a maximum of 24-48 hours.
Symptoms Of Food Allergies
If your child experiences redness along with other food allergy symptoms, they are probably experiencing a food allergic reaction.
Remember: symptoms of a food allergy appear seconds to minutes after eating a food, and almost always within 2 hours after eating a food.
Also, symptoms of a food allergy reaction can vary from one reaction to the next. So, if someone experiences hives or other redness during one reaction, that doesn’t mean that they’ll experience the same symptoms during future food allergy reactions.
It’s also important to know whether a food allergy symptom is mild or severe, so you know how to respond. We’ve bolded the food allergy symptoms that usually involve redness below, so you can easily tell if they are mild or severe.
Mild Food Allergy Symptoms
- Hives (raised, red itchy bumps) concentrated in one area of the body
- Skin redness in one area
- Red rash on the face
- Itchy, red, and watery eyes
- Swelling of the eyes, lips, or face (swelling may cause redness)
- Worsening eczema, if baby already has eczema (red skin rash)
- Occasional vomiting
- Some stomach pain
- Some nausea
- Mild coughing
How To Respond To A Mild Food Allergy Reaction
Stop feeding your child the food that you believed was the cause of the reaction. Then, contact your pediatrician or an allergist.
If your doctor recommends a specific dose of antihistamine, you can give your child the antihistamine to treat a mild allergic reaction.
Monitor your child closely, because there’s a chance that a mild allergic reaction could turn severe.
Severe Food Allergy Symptoms
- Hives (raised, red itchy bumps) that spread to many areas of the body
- Swelling of the throat (may cause the throat to turn red)
- Tightness of the throat
- Difficulty swallowing
- Swelling of the tongue
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Noisy breathing or wheezing
- Repeated, significant coughing
- Pale appearance
- Trouble vocalizing
- Change in voice or cry
- Repeated vomiting
- Drop in blood pressure
- Rapid heartbeat
- Loss of consciousness
- Feeling floppy (only in infants and young children)
How To Respond When An Allergic Reaction Is Severe
When the symptoms of a food allergy reaction are severe and involve more than one organ system, this is known as anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis can be life-threatening. Give epinephrine (use an Epi-Pen) immediately, and urgently call 911, if your child shows signs of anaphylaxis. Epinephrine is the only medicine that can stop anaphylaxis.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) provides more information on food allergy symptoms and management:
Other Skin Conditions That May Cause Redness
If your child has redness on their face, but otherwise seems fine (with no other symptoms of a food allergy, such as hives and vomiting), they may have another type of skin rash or skin condition.
This is true even if the redness looks blotchy – a red, blotchy rash that is not raised could be a type of eczema.
If baby has redness on their skin once, with no other symptoms, and the redness and other symptoms never return shortly after your child eats the same food, the redness is probably caused by something other than a food allergy.
This is because food allergy reactions are consistent and repeatable. When someone has a food allergy, they will have some sort of allergic reaction symptoms every time they eat that food.
Here are some skin conditions that cause redness, and that are completely different from a food allergy reaction.
Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis)
Eczema (atopic dermatitis) causes baby’s skin to develop a red rash that is dry, rough, flaky, and itchy. An eczema rash usually appears on the face and skin creases, but could appear anywhere on the body. This rash may appear blotchy, but it will never have raised bumps (hives).
When baby’s skin is exposed to certain irritants, their eczema will flare up (become worse). Some irritants that could cause baby’s skin to flare up include soaps, detergents, dyes, fragrances, abrasive fabrics, and anything that causes the skin to dry out. If a baby has eczema and a food allergy, eczema could also flare up when they eat the food that they are allergic to.
Contact dermatitis flares up when the skin reacts to something it touches (including soaps, perfumes, lotions or poison ivy). It could show up as a red rash, blisters, or dry skin. It is considered a type of eczema, but it is different from atopic dermatitis. Contact dermatitis usually clears up when the skin irritant is removed.
Baby acne appears as hard red bumps (pimples), sometimes surrounded by small red inflamed areas of the skin. It looks very similar to teen and adult acne. You may also see whiteheads on the bumps.
Baby acne usually appears on the face, neck, back, or upper chest. It’s never accompanied by any other symptoms, and doesn’t cause discomfort in the majority of cases.
There are two types of baby acne, and both present in the same way.
The first type is neonatal acne, and it is very common. Neonatal acne usually starts to develop between 2 and 4 weeks of age (but could develop any time before 6 weeks of age), and usually clears up by 4 months of age.
The second type of acne develops after six weeks of age, and is known as infantile acne. It is less common than neonatal acne. Infantile acne usually appears between 3 and 6 months of age, and clears up after several months to a year.
Both types of baby acne usually last for much longer than the typical food allergy redness lasts for.
Heat rash suddenly appears on a child’s body when it’s hot outside. It looks like baby acne or a red, prickly rash. It will usually appear on areas of someone’s body that heat up most rapidly: the face, armpits, wrists, and legs. It may be itchy, but it won’t be accompanied by any other symptoms.
Drool rash can appear around baby's mouth, cheeks, neck, and chest when too much saliva wets baby's skin. It can also appear if a pacifier wets baby's skin often, or if food is left on their face for too long. Drool rash looks like red patches, which are sometimes flat and sometimes raised. Drool rash can sometimes appear chapped. Like hear rash, drool rash won’t be accompanied by any other symptoms.
Viral rashes are rashes caused by a viral infection, such as roseola or fifth disease. Many of these rashes cause baby's skin to turn red. Viral rashes usually appear a few days after baby has had a fever, but fever is never a food allergy symptom. Meanwhile, food allergy rashes appear without warning, right after someone eats a “problem” food. And while viral rashes last for a few days, food allergy hives usually clear up within several hours to a day.
Early Allergen Introduction and Redness
The safest time to introduce your baby to common allergenic foods (like peanut, egg and milk) is during their first year of life, as food allergy reactions in infants tend to be mild.
Research led by Dr. Jonathan Spergel (Head of Allergy, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia) has shown that infants have far fewer reactions that require an EpiPen than older children, and that no food allergy deaths have occurred in children under the age of one.
Our Chief Allergist and Board Certified Allergist Katie Marks-Cogan M.D, explains how early allergen introduction is inherently safe:
Ready. Set. Food! is an easy and safe way to start feeding your baby allergenic foods early. Most babies will not have an allergic reaction when introducing a new food, and the few reactions that do occur tend to be mild or moderate. This is consistent with research findings that show under age 1 is the safest time to introduce allergenic foods.
Still, if your baby shows signs of an allergic reaction soon after eating Ready. Set. Food!, including redness, talk to your pediatrician or an allergist for guidance. Even if you think your baby’s redness is from a food allergy, you can take comfort in knowing the reaction is likely to be mild.
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