Allergy is a common reaction nowadays and we see that there are various forms of presentations in allergies. When it comes to babies, food allergies are very common followed next by skin allergies. CDC, Centre for disease control and prevention, U.S has quoted based on the agency’s National Health Interview Survey that the incidence of food allergy has increased from 3.5% in the year 2000 to 4.6% in the year 2011 in children below 18 years of age.
It is very important to have the knowledge of the signs and symptoms as well as course of allergic reactions, so that you can take an immediate step of action to halt its progression.
Causes and Symptoms of Food Allergies in Babies
The Top 8 Allergenic Foods
Every step of a baby’s growth is a challenge for a mother. Transformation of food habits from only milk to majorly milk and few foods, then to majorly foods and some milk is a common yet challenging part for the mother, as every new food you start with, can have an associated allergic reaction. There are nearly 160 allergic foods identified for babies, among which 8 foods are very common and they are the cause of allergies 90% of the times.
The top 8 allergic foods are: wheat, soy, milk, egg, peanuts, shellfish, tree nuts such as walnuts/almonds, and fish.
Most of the time, peanuts are avoided till your baby is 3 years of age. Ask your paediatrician for any doubts as they can guide you correctly.
The symptoms of food allergy can present very fast. You need to observe your baby for few minutes to 1 to 2 hours, when you are trying a new food. Keep an eye for such symptoms. They can be:
- Flushed skin / Redness /Rash
- Difficulty in Breathing
- Cough or Wheeze
- Loss of Consciousness/Faintness
- Vomiting / Diarrhea
- Hives or Welts
- Swelling of the Face, Tongue or Lips
When to Call 911
Few allergic reactions can turn fatal within no time. If your baby has severe wheeze, not able to breathe well, has swelling in the body/face/tongue or lips or vomits severely, call for help immediately.
How to Deal with Food Allergies in Babies
If it is not an emergency and you see symptoms of rash or hives on your baby’s body, consult your pediatrician. They can guide you correctly about further evaluation or management plan (usually removing the food from the diet of the baby) and how to deal with accidental exposures.
You should remember that even though the initial reaction to an allergen or new food is mild, it may get worse after continuous exposure. Consult your physician about any symptoms that may develop in your baby due to food allergen.
If a specific food allergy is identified, you will be told to restrict that food in your baby. Few food allergies such as allergy to milk, and egg can vanish over time, whereas few food allergies such as allergy to walnut, shell fish, and peanut can persist for life time.
Watch for more: food allergy sources and how to deal with them
In the video, Dr Andrea Maxim, ND discusses the better options to begin new diet and the ways to introduce new foods into the baby’s diet in order to minimize the development of new allergic reactions to foods.
How to Prevent Food Allergy in Babies
There is no clear evidence as to why babies develop food allergy, whether it is due to the mother eating few foods during pregnancy or whether it is something related to breast feeding. It is also unclear that, if babies are exposed to few foods at a particular period, they will work as a stimulus to develop immunity and prevent further allergies in future.
Apart from the allergies many other problems that babies face can be prevented by exclusive breast feeding. This is a proven fact. Exclusive breast feeding is characterized by feeding the baby only with breast milk till the age of 6 months, or at least for 4 months without starting on any other foods.
Introducing Foods One by One
Weaning from breast milk and addition of new foods is done after 6 months of age, that too, slowly one by one. It is recommended that after six months you can begin with allergic foods such as cow’s milk and egg one by one, with gaps in between. This way, you can sort out if the baby is allergic to some food specifically.
Careful with Peanuts
As we discussed earlier, peanut allergy can persist for life time. So, be careful while giving peanuts to your baby. Especially, if one of the family members has history of allergy or Eczema, such babies are prone to food allergies. If you do not have allergy to peanuts then you can safely eat peanuts during your pregnancy and while you are breastfeeding your baby.
The recent area of research is the benefit of probiotics in various health issues. Probiotics are even thought to benefit in preventing food allergy in babies, when you take them during pregnancy or when they are mixed with formula feeds in moderate quantities, but this has to be researched further for making conclusions.
Differences between Food Allergy and Food Intolerance
Food intolerance is different from food allergy. Food allergy majorly deals with the immune system, as the immune cells get activated when your baby is exposed specifically to the food allergens. The symptoms and signs of food allergy develop majorly in the skin, unless it is life threatening.
Food intolerance involves the digestive system, as the food ingested cannot be digested fully and can result in diarrhea, gas and bloating.
The typical example of food intolerance is lactose intolerance. Babies having Lactose intolerance typically lack a digestive enzyme called Lactase, which helps in the digestion of Lactose to form smaller sugars. Cow’s milk has Lactose and hence, babies with Cow’s milk intolerance can have Lactose intolerance in other way.