Sugar makes things taste sweet — and it’s actually a type of carbohydrate. Think cookies, cakes, and candy. But it’s not just in our favorite desserts.
Sugar is in nearly every food we eat or beverage we drink.
Fruits, vegetables, you name it — sugar is in it. This is why sugar allergies in children are so scary. Of course, most babies aren’t throwing back tons of sodas. But some kids are drinking fruit juices or eating finger foods with ketchup. Both juice and ketchup come with shockingly high amounts of sugar.
But the good news is that true sugar allergies are rare, and they’re manageable. Here’s a quick breakdown of the most common types of sugars your child could be allergic to:
- The body’s primary source of energy
- Found in high-carb foods
- Breads, pastas, soft drinks
- What most people know as table sugar
- Cookies, brownies, cakes
- Commonly added to baked goods or coffee
- Sugars that come from fruits
- Found in sugary drinks
- Fruit juices, fruit punch, sodas
- The primary sugar in dairy products
- Found in foods made with milk
- Butter, cheese, ice cream
Some of the foods found above may have surprised you. This is because lots of foods contain hidden sugar. It’s added to foods we don’t associate with sweet treats — like granola bars.
And if your child doesn’t feel great after eating their favorite snack, sugar could be the culprit. Or a reaction to artificial sweeteners like saccharin. So let’s dive in to learn more about child sugar allergies, and what you need to know to keep them safe.
Here’s what you’ll learn in this article:
- Common signs and symptoms of a sugar allergy
- Top foods to avoid if your child has a sugar allergy
- How to diagnose sugar allergies in children
- When to call 911
- How to prevent and treat sugar allergies in children
- FAQ: Everything parents and caretakers need to know
Common Signs and Symptoms of a Sugar Allergy
Allergies are immune systems responses. If your child is allergic to sugar, their body thinks it’s an invader or a foreign body. And when an allergy triggers the immune system, physical symptoms set in. Here are some signs to look for:
Mild sugar allergy
Mild sugar allergies and intolerances may result in the following symptoms after ingestion:
- Runny nose
- Upset stomach or cramping
Moderate sugar allergy
If your child is moderately allergic to certain types of sugar, you’ll notice symptoms like:
- Skin rash or itchiness (also known as a sugar rash)
Severe sugar allergy (anaphylaxis)
Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic response. If your child has severe symptoms after ingesting sugar, seek medical attention immediately. Here are some serious symptoms to look out for:
- Shortness of breath
- Loss of consciousness
Lactose and the GI tract
Children who are lactose intolerant experience gastrointestinal symptoms like:
- Bloating and gas
Top Foods to Avoid if your Child has a Sugar Allergy
If your child has a sugar allergy, one of the best ways to manage it is through child sugar intake. This limits how much and what kind of sugar your child ingests.
Thoroughly read food labels and ingredient lists to find sugars in all sorts of foods. Some foods surprisingly high in sugar include:
- Salad dressings
- Fruit bars
- Nut milk and nut butter
- Granola bars
Here are the most common types of sugar allergies, foods to avoid, and low-sugar alternatives for each:
|Type Of Sugar||High-Sugar Foods To Avoid||Low-Sugar Alternatives|
You can also explore sugar substitutes like:
If your child has a lactose allergy or intolerance, invest in dairy-free alternatives. Ice creams, milks, yogurts, and more are available in lactose-free varieties. Your child can also take lactase enzyme tablets before meals. This helps manage the side effects of lactose consumption.
How to Diagnose Sugar Allergies in Children
If you suspect your child has a sugar allergy or intolerance, consult with your doctor. They can provide a diagnosis after they:
- Ask questions about your child’s diet and symptoms
- Examine your child for rashes, hives, and so on
- Order sugar allergy tests
1. A medical professional places possible allergens on your child’s back or forearm
2. They administer small “pricks” along the skin. This exposes your child to small doses of possible allergens
3. If there’s a reaction (like bumps or hives), it’s like your child has a sensitivity, intolerance, or allergy
1. A medical professional takes a small sample of your child’s blood
2. The blood sample is tested in a lab
3. Test results may reveal a sugar sensitivity, intolerance, or allergy
Breath tests (specifically for lactose intolerances)
1. Your child avoids risking or eating up to 24 hours before the test
2. A medical professional asks your child to drink something rich in lactose
3. Your child’s breath is measured for hydrogen levels
4. High levels of hydrogen indicate your child’s body can’t efficiently process lactose
Food elimination diets
1. A doctor or allergist asks you to eliminate certain foods or ingredients from your child’s diet
2. After 4 - 5 weeks, you re-introduce certain foods back into your child’s diet
3. If a reaction occurs, your child is allergic or sensitive to sugar
When to Call 911 for Sugar Allergies
Although true sugar allergies are rare in children, they can be life threatening. Call 911 and/or get your child to the emergency room immediately if:
- Your child has stopped breathing
- Your child has difficulty breathing, or slowed breathing
- Your child has lost consciousness
- Your child’s face, throat, or tongue is swelling
These symptoms show that your child is experiencing anaphylaxis. It's a severe and sudden allergic reaction. While you wait for emergency medical care, administer an epinephrine injection immediately. Epinephrine (or EpiPen® or auto-injector) manages the severity of anaphylactic shock.
You can also give your child over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines. These manage any mild, leftover symptoms following the auto-injector.
Even if your child’s symptoms go away after the injection, consult a medical professional. Following the initial anaphylaxis attack, there’s a chance there’s a second one around the corner.
How to Prevent and Treat Sugar Allergies in Children
Some allergy specialists believe early allergenic food introduction is the key. And that it may prevent allergies before they even become a problem. So when it’s time to introduce your baby to solid foods, consult with a doctor. They may be able to walk you through an allergenic food introduction.
Early intervention may prevent your child from developing a sugar allergy. Or it can identify serious allergies early on to better prepare for your child's future.
You can manage your child’s sugar allergy or intolerance through substitutions. Instead of sugar, reach for stevia or saccharin in your child’s favorite snacks. Or introduce lactase tablets before lactose-heavy meals.
And while some food allergies may dissipate later in life, others stick around for the long haul. For example, lactose intolerance may go away with age. But nut allergies are usually lifelong.
To find out whether your child’s sugar intolerance or allergy will go away with age, talk with your doctor.
What is the Difference between Sugar Allergy and Sugar Intolerance?
If your child is allergic to sugar, their immune system produces immunoglobulin E (IgE). It’s an antibody that’s designed to fight off infection or foreign invaders in the body. And it’s measurable.
An intolerance, on the other hand, is an enzyme deficiency. Your child’s digestive system doesn’t have the tools it needs to break down certain foods.
Allergy and intolerance symptoms look a lot alike:
Sugar allergy symptoms
- Difficulty breathing
- Swelling of the neck, face, tongue, or throat
- Loss of consciousness
- Increased heart rate
- Decreased blood pressure
Sugar intolerance symptoms
- Stomach cramps
- Nausea or vomiting
Keep in mind that the best way to know whether your child has an allergy is to visit a health professional.
Sugar Allergies FAQ: Everything Parents and Caretakers Need to Know
1. Does sugar make kids hyper?
The short answer is that there is no definitive answer. Some studies indicate that children don’t respond strongly to sugar consumption. Other studies show a correlation between sugar consumption and:
- Increased insulin secretion
- Increased nervous system activation
- Hyperactive behaviors
If you’re concerned about any sugar-related hyperactivity, call your medical health professional. They can check for sensitivities, intolerances, and more.
2. How do I check food labels to make sure my child is safe?
Food labels list nutritional information and ingredients. And depending on where you live, it’s required to list common allergens, too.
For example, in the United Kingdom, food labels have to clearly state allergens. They should list whether any of the 14 most common allergens are in that product:
- Cereals with gluten
- Sulphur dioxide
- Tree nuts
And in the United States, food labels have to show the 8 most common allergens:
- Tree nuts
Always read food labels thoroughly before letting your child try a portion of new food. And familiarize yourself with common allergen synonyms like:
- Tree nut
- High-fructose corn syrup