NACD Journal
NACD Journal

Food Sensitivities: The Hidden Problems
Robert J. Doman, MD.

Reprinted by permission of The NACD Foundation, Volume 4 No. 2, 1984 ©NACD

Parents today are often concerned about possible allergies in their children, but they are relatively unfamiliar with possible food sensitivities and their complications.

Check the following list. If three or more apply to your child, food sensitivity may be a problem:

  • Sometimes congested
  • History of ear infections
  • Behavior; frequent ups and downs
  • Poor attention span at times
  • Night or morning coughing spells
  • Variable hearing; sometimes good, sometimes poor
  • Post-nasal drip
  • Headaches
  • Periods of restlessness

Although the problems listed above undoubtedly have a number of possible causes, food sensitivities must be considered as one of the most likely.

When you think of allergies, you often think of hives or a skin rash, but the symptoms of food sensitivities are generally not as obvious or as dramatic as those of allergies. As a result, we describe them as hidden problems—this is particularly true with children. Common symptoms of food sensitivity are congestion of the nose and throat, often accompanied by headaches and post-nasal drip.

Food sensitivities can be quite variable. Certain foods frequently, but not always, cause problems. For example, eating a suspected food during the daytime when the child is active may cause little or no problem. However, the same food eaten before bedtime may lead to severe congestion through the night and the next morning. As a result, bedtime snacks, in particular, need to be avoided by children with food sensitivities.

What are the most common foods to which your child might be sensitive? Dr. Feingold, in his book Why Your Child Is Hyperactive, gave a long list which included foods and products with additives, including color additives, etc., and foods containing natural salicylates, including many fruits and some nuts. Contact your local Feingold Association for more details on his program.

NACD generally recommends that parents who suspect a food sensitivity in their child consider an elimination type of diet. By this we mean gradually eliminating certain potential offenders such as milk products, chocolate, citrus fruits, wheat, etc. When you eliminate the worst offenders, you may see a definite change in the child for the better.

If congestion of the nose and throat is one of your child's symptoms, you should be alert to potential ear problems. As adults, the sinus spaces in our skulls tend to act as buffers for infections of the nose and throat. Children have small underdeveloped sinus spaces so that nose and throat infections are generally pushed back quickly into the middle ear via the Eustachian Tube in the throat.

Pediatricians, although good at treating ear infections, often miss its most common hidden complication—fluid in the middle ear after the infection. Fluid in the middle ear often causes many of the problems listed earlier in this article, and is frequently undetected by parents and pediatricians even when the eardrum is looked at.

If you suspect such a problem in your child, you should take your child to an Ear, Nose, and Throat Specialist and ask for a simple, easy, and safe test called a Tympanogram. The test takes only ten minutes and does not even require the child's cooperation. The doctor simply blows some air against the eardrum (Tympanic Membrane) to measure its motion. If fluid is present behind the drum, the doctor might recommend that small plastic ear tubes be inserted.

It has also been recommended that children with recurrent ear infections gargle twice a day with warm water in order to keep the Eustachian tube open.

Be aware of such possible problems in your child and attempt to eliminate foods causing congestion. Fortunately, food sensitivities are often temporary. Don't despair. Acceptable substitutes are frequently available at your health food stores.

Other Resources

Is This Your Child? Allergies and Your Family
Dr. Doris Rapp
2757 Elmwood
Kenmore, NY 14217
716-875-5578

Why Your Child Is Hyperactive
Dr. Benjamin Feingold
The Feingold Association of the United States
P.O. Box 6550
Alexandria, VA 22306
703-768-FAUS

Reprinted from the Journal of The NACD Foundation (formerly The National Academy for Child Development)

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