Will your child’s food allergy eventually go away on its own? Is there any way to predict whether your child will outgrow their food allergy? Learn the answers and more in this parent’s guide.
When someone has a food allergy, their immune system over-defends the body against certain foods by triggering symptoms of an allergic reaction whenever that food is consumed. Food allergies greatly impact the quality of children’s life, and can sometimes be life-threatening.
Many parents of food allergic children wonder if their child’s food allergy --- and the impacts it causes --- will be lifelong, or if the food allergy will go away eventually, allowing their child to safely eat their previous problem food.
- Can children outgrow their food allergies?
- Are some food allergies more likely to be outgrown than others?
- How can you tell if someone has outgrown their allergy?
- And is there a way to help someone outgrow a food allergy?
We’ll answer these questions and more in this food allergy family guide.
Can children outgrow food allergies?
Many children with food allergies do eventually “outgrow” their food allergies later in life.
When someone outgrows a food allergy, they become fully tolerant to the food that they used to be allergic to. The food no longer causes them to develop any symptoms of an allergic reaction when they consume it, even if they eat a full serving of the food.
But some children don’t outgrow their food allergies, and endup with lifelong allergies to a food or foods.
Is there a way to encourage the outgrowing of an allergy?
Unfortunately, there’s no way to encourage or “speed up” the outgrowing of a food allergy once the allergy develops.
Even oral immunotherapy, where a child receives small, controlled, slowly increasing amounts of the food they're allergic to over time, doesn't make someone outgrow an allergy. That process only helps protect someone from accidental exposure to their allergen, as it helps their body learn to not react to small amounts of a food. Someone who undergoes oral immunotherapy can't eat full meals that contain their allergen.
There is no cure for food allergies. It isn’t yet understood how, or why, some children eventually outgrow a food allergy and others don’t.
What factors may predict whether someone outgrows a food allergy?
Often, the higher the levels of food-specific IgE antibodies a child has in their body, the less likely they are to outgrow their allergy to that food. But this is only true of some foods.
(Food-specific IgE antibodies are produced by the immune system. They detect the proteins from a specific food that a person is allergic to, and trigger symptoms of an allergic reaction whenever they detect these food proteins.)
There are a few other factors that may predict whether a food allergy might be outgrown, but research is limited. More studies are needed to determine whether they play a role.
Leading allergist and food allergy researcher Dr. Ruchi Gupta ( Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine; Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago) identified these possible factors in her study on food allergy tolerance: "a mild to moderate reaction history," "eczema as the sole allergy symptom," and "being allergic to only one food."
"Younger ages of first reaction" was also associated with outgrowing an allergy, with the probability of outgrowing the allergy decreasing the older someone was at their first allergic reaction to the food. Age of first reaction seemed to play a role regardless of the food someone was allergic to or the severity of the allergy.
The most important factor in whether a food allergy will be outgrown, though, is the type of food the child is allergic to. It’s well-known that the type of food allergy plays a role in whether someone will outgrow it.
Are some food allergies “outgrown” more often than others?
With some types of food allergies, most children outgrow the allergy. But other types of allergies are outgrown by very few people.
If your child has a cow’s milk, egg, soy, or wheat allergy, they’re likely to outgrow it. The majority of kids with these food allergies outgrow these allergies before adulthood.
But peanut, tree nut, sesame, fish and shellfish allergies usually aren’t outgrown.
Here’s a more detailed breakdown of how often each of the top 9 food allergies are outgrown.
Most peanut allergies end up being lifelong. Only 20% of children outgrow their peanut allergy.
Tree Nut Allergies
Unfortunately, tree nut allergies are highly unlikely to be outgrown. FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) reports that only around 9% of children eventually outgrow their tree nut allergy.
Cow's Milk Allergies
Most children eventually outgrow their milk allergy, although some don't outgrow it until their teenage years.
It was previously thought that most children with milk allergies would outgrow the allergy by the time they turned 3, but one study's results showed that fewer than 20% of children outgrew their milk allergy by age 4.
Fortunately, the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) reports that 80% of children do outgrow their milk allergy before the age of 16.
Most egg allergies are eventually outgrown. But sometimes, egg allergies aren't outgrown until the teenage years.
Reports differ on exactly when egg allergies tend to be outgrown.
One major report from 2007 found that 4% of children outgrow their egg allergy by 4 years of age, 26% outgrow it by 8 years of age, 48% outgrow it by 12 years of age, and 68% outgrow it by 16 years of age.
And Dr. Ruchi Gupta’s 2011 study found that around 55% of egg-allergic children outgrow their allergy by age 7.
But unfortunately, Dr. Gupta also found that a child is less likely to outgrow their allergy if they've previously had a severe egg allergy reaction.
Most children with soy allergies eventually outgrow the allergy. According to one study, approximately 25% of children outgrow their soy allergy by age 4, approximately 45% outgrow their soy allergy by age 6, and almost 70% outgrow it by age 10.
As a different study reports, “the peak prevalence of soy allergy was 1.5% at age 1 year, [but] after age 1 year, prevalence rates steadily decreased to a low of 0.2% at age 14 to 17 years.” This also shows an outgrowing of soy allergy.
Wheat allergies are usually outgrown. The ACAAI estimates that around 65% of children outgrow it by age 12.
Most sesame allergies are lifelong, as only around 20-30% of children with sesame allergies eventually outgrow their allergy.
Finned fish allergies usually are not outgrown --- they tend to be lifelong. They tend to develop in adulthood, though.
Shellfish allergies also tend to be lifelong. But like finned fish allergies, they usually develop in adulthood.
How can you tell if someone has “outgrown” their allergy?
To test whether someone has outgrown an allergy, allergists use the same types of tests they use to diagnose food allergies: the blood test, the skin prick test, and the oral food challenge.
Dr. Stan from Nutrition4Kids shares more on how to tell when your child has outgrown a food allergy:
If it's suspected that your child has outgrown an allergy, the allergist will usually start by running a blood test. This test will check whether your child's body is still producing specific IgE antibodies to the proteins of their "problem" food (the food they were previously diagnosed with an allergy to).
The allergist may run a skin prick test alongside, or instead of, the blood test. If they run the skin prick test, they will see if your child's body still develops welts when their skin is pricked with a needle containing their "problem food."
If this first testing seems to indicate that your child has outgrown the allergy, it's then time to run an oral food challenge. Just like a food challenge is the only definitive way to diagnose a food allergy, it's the only definitive way to see if the allergy is outgrown.
In an oral food challenge, your child will eat small, slowly increasing amounts of their "problem food" while the allergist closely supervises them, to see if they develop a reaction.
If your child makes it through a high enough dose of the food without developing a food allergic reaction, they've "passed" the challenge. This means they've outgrown the allergy and can safely eat that food.
Since a life-threatening food allergic reaction can sometimes occur when someone eats a food they are allergic to, oral food challenges can and should only be done in a controlled medical setting, with close doctor supervision.
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