Did you know that food allergies affect around 5% of all children in Australia? They're most common in children under 5, and even babies can develop them. Generally, more severe allergies are picked up on quickly as their effects are immediately noticeable. Mild to moderate allergies, on the other hand, go undetected in many children. Everyone knows food allergies can cause children to feel discomfort, but what many people don't know is that they can also affect your child's speech development. 

What Causes Food Allergies?

Food allergies occur when your child's immune system mistakenly reacts to a food or drink which is harmless. These immune system reactions can manifest in a variety of ways, with some symptoms more severe than others. If your child has a food allergy, they'll experience these symptoms every time their immune system is triggered by a food they're intolerant to. Most food allergies are caused by nuts, sesame, milk, eggs, seafood, wheat and soy, many of which are a part of a healthy child's diet. It's not clear what causes food allergies; while some people find that feeding their child a varied diet from the outset reduced their risk of food allergies, often they're unavoidable. Some children will grow out of their food allergies, while others will live with them forever.

How Do Food Allergies Affect Speech?

Food allergies can have a range of effects. Some, like hives or tummy pains, have little to no effect on speech. However, many others do. Tongue swelling, hoarse voice and throat tightening, for example, are common bodily reactions to allergens. Unsurprisingly, these problems can make it difficult for a child to speak at the same rate or with the same clarity as their peers. On top of that, hearing can also be affected by allergic reactions; allergies can cause itchy ears and internal swelling that make it difficult for a child to make out sounds. This can lead to further problems developing speech.

Is Your Child's Speech Delay Caused by Food Allergies?

When a child's speech is delayed or abnormal, it can be difficult to tell if they have a food allergy because they won't always be able to communicate their symptoms effectively. Aside from looking out for outwardly noticeable symptoms like hives, gas, diarrhoea and sickness, monitor your child after eating common allergens to see if they appear uncomfortable, upset, or agitated. If you suspect your child has a food allergy, try to keep the food out of their diet until you can visit a doctor. A doctor will be able to diagnose your child's allergies using a blood test, skin prick test, or exclusion diet test.

What Can Be Done About Allergies?

Thankfully, food allergies don't require any daily medication or surgery. Unfortunately, this is because they cannot be cured. The only way to avoid your child having an allergic reaction is to keep them away from their trigger foods. If your child is allergic to a common staple food, this will require a lot of planning. You'll need to read labels thoroughly, keep allergens out of your kitchen, and make sure others who take care of your child are aware of their allergies. You may also need to carry antihistamine medicine or an epipen with you in case of emergency. Luckily, there are many modern food substitutes on the market that will allow your child to maintain a balanced diet without eating trigger foods.

What If Your Child's Speech Doesn't Return to Normal?

If a child has had a food allergy for some time, it may not rectify itself automatically once that food is out of their system. However, there's no need to worry. Delayed speech can be treated by a paediatric speech and language therapist. Speech therapists are trained in developing the speech of young children affected by bodily issues like tongue and throat swelling. They'll be able to deliver speech help to your child during appointments and advise you on how to work on your child's speech at home.