Dr. Brian Peppers

Food allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities: What does it all mean? WVU Medicine Children's Allergy and Immunology experts can help your family determine the cause of your child's adverse reaction to certain foods. WVU Medicine pediatric and adult allergist and immunologist Brian Peppers, DO, gives you the scoop on food allergies and what options are available for your child.

What is a food intolerance?
Food intolerance means that your child’s body has trouble digesting certain foods the way it should because of an enzyme deficiency. Lactose intolerance to the sugar in dairy products is an example of a food intolerance. Symptoms may include abdominal cramps, bloating, and diarrhea.

What is a food sensitivity? 
A food sensitivity doesn’t result from an immune reaction or an enzyme deficiency. Food sensitivities are the hardest to accurately diagnose because the cause is not fully understood. The good news is that a food sensitivity is also the least likely to cause serious health problems despite how uncomfortable it can be. Your child could have diarrhea, heartburn, gas, or nausea if a food sensitivity is present.

What is a food allergy?
After eating a certain food, the immune system overreacts causing allergic symptoms, which can be mild, serious, or life-threatening in some cases. These reactions normally occur within one hour of eating, but there are many exceptions.

What kinds of foods cause allergies?
The most common food allergies in children are caused by these eight foods: eggs, milk, peanuts, shellfish (oyster, crab, shrimp, lobster, etc.), soy, tree nuts (cashews, pecans, walnuts, pistachios, etc), fish, and wheat.

How can I tell if my child has a food allergy?
Symptoms of a food allergy may include one or more of the following at the time of a meal or within one hour after eating:

  • Hives or itchy skin
  • Trouble breathing, including shallow or faster breathing
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain

How are food allergies treated?
WVU Medicine Children’s Allergy and Immunology experts have advanced training and experience to determine what’s causing your child’s food allergy and provide a treatment plan to reduce allergic symptoms. Our providers will put your child at ease during his or her visit while we ask detailed questions about your family’s medical history and allergic symptoms. At the same time, we look for signs of food intolerances and sensitivities.

A WVU Medicine allergist may place your child on a special diet or ask you to keep a daily food diary. Allergy tests may also be needed to determine what foods are affecting your child’s immune system. We can determine the cause of allergies and form a plan to help your child feel better.

How can I prepare for my visit?
To make the most of your child's appointment with a pediatric allergist and immunologist, be sure to have an estimate of the following information:

  • Know what food(s) and specific brands may have caused symptoms.
  • Estimate how long before symptoms appeared.
  • Be aware of the symptoms that were present and how long they lasted.

For questions or to make an appointment, call 855-WVU-CARE / Visit WVUMedicine.org for more about services.