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Understanding Fish Allergies In Babies

May 05, 2022 4 min read

While many parents don’t often include fish (like tuna or salmon) on their little one’s plate, fish allergies are a growing concern in children and adults. 

Finned fish has been identified as one of the nine most common food allergens in the United States. A fish allergy not only affects your child's nutritional health but can have rippling effects on their quality of life, from living in fear around food to feeling restricted in their daily activities. 

That’s why at SpoonfulONE we’re on a mission to fight these rising rates. Ready to learn more? Here’s what parents need to know about fish allergies.

How Common Is A Fish Allergy In Babies?

Finned fish, such as salmon, tuna, halibut, and cod, are responsible for up to 1% of allergic reactions in the US. Though it is most common in adults, fish allergies can start at any age.

Among the allergic population, reactions are most commonly associated with salmon, tuna, and halibut, but any of the more than 20,000 types of fish can cause a reaction.

And every year, food allergy rates are increasing. The CDC reports that the prevalence of food allergies in children has increased by 50% between 1997 and 2011, with as many as 6 million children in the United States developing some form of food allergy. 

What Does A Fish Allergy Look Like

Affected by both genetic and environmental factors, a food allergy occurs when your child's immune system decides that a certain food is a "danger" to their health. Their immune system starts sending out immunoglobulin E (or IgE) antibodies that react to the food and cause an allergic reaction.

Like other food allergens, these reactions can range from mild, like sneezing or itching, to severe, like swelling or anaphylaxis that results in difficulty breathing and a sudden drop in blood pressure that sends the body into shock. 

Most food-related fish allergy symptoms occur within minutes of eating or being exposed to fish proteins, but allergic reactions can still occur within 2-4 hours of ingestion. Signs that your baby has developed a fish allergy may include:

  • Stomach distress including vomiting, cramps, indigestion, or diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing, wheezing, or shortness of breath
  • Repetitive cough, hoarse voice, or tightness in the throat
  • Hives, red skin, or swelling around the face, mouth, or tongue
  • Confusion, dizziness, or loss of consciousness
  • Weak pulse
  • In rare cases, anaphylaxis

If your child has shown a reaction to fish, you should have your pediatrician test for a food allergy. Common testing methods include a skin prick test, IgE testing, and an oral food challenge. 

Long-Lasting Effects Of A Fish Allergy

According to the ACAAI, about 40% of children with a food allergy are allergic to more than one food. In fact, studies have shown that more than half of people who are allergic to one type of fish will also be allergic to other fish. 

Furthermore, allergies to fish tend to last a lifetime and reactions can even occur when not ingesting the food, such as if you are close to fish being cooked, or if your food came in contact with fish.

A fish allergy is different than an allergy to shellfish, and you can still have a finned fish allergy and be able to enjoy shellfish like shrimp and crab. However, it is important to be careful of cross-contamination which commonly happens in restaurants, markets, or manufacturing facilities where both shellfish and finned fish are served. 

Lastly, studies have shown that children with a food allergy are two to four times as likely to develop other allergic conditions, such as asthma or eczema, which can have long-reaching impacts on your little one’s quality of life. 

How To Manage Fish Allergies

Fortunately, most types of fish are rarely hidden in foods, and are easily identifiable on ingredient labels. As one of the most common allergens, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 requires that finned fish must be listed in the ingredient label. 

If your child has developed an allergy to fish, read labels carefully and be sure to entirely avoid fish and fish products altogether. 

  • Finned fish. There are over 20,000 types of fish, but here are some of the most common: salmon, cod, catfish, tuna, anchovies, trout, halibut, herring, mahi mahi, tilapia, swordfish, and flounder
  • Fish flavoring and gelatin
  • Fish oil
  • Fish sticks
  • Barbecue sauce
  • Caesar salad dressing
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Imitation fish products
  • Sushi

Fish products can also be found in fish stock or seafood flavoring. As fish is often stored together in restaurants or food markets, cross-contamination can be an issue. This goes the same for fish and shellfish products. 

If you find that your child is showing fish allergy symptoms to a specific type of finned fish, such as salmon, you should consult an allergist before eating any other kind of fish.

How to Avoid A Fish Allergy in Babies

We know that no parent wants to see their child suffer from food allergies, but unfortunately, there is no guarantee that they can be avoided. 

However, there is still hope. Groundbreaking clinical studies, like LEAP and EAT, have taught us that babies who were given potentially allergenic foods as a regular part of their diet were less likely to develop a food allergy. 

According to the AAP and the USDA’s latest guidelines, you can (and should!) start introducing allergenic foods like fish to your baby alongside other solids. In fact, experts now consider it safe for your child to start allergen introduction as early as four months, rather than later in life. 

At SpoonfulONE, we believe regular, consistent exposure to common allergens in the diet throughout early childhood is key to staying healthy.