A true baby food allergy is an immune system response to a protein in a particular food. If this is the case, your baby’s body produces antibodies to fight off the proteins with histamine. The histamine is what causes allergic symptoms.
In infants and babies, common allergic symptoms are hives, rashes, eczema (atopic dermatitis), swelling or troubled breathing. The symptoms can also be gastrointestinal, like vomiting, diarrhea, bloating and cramping. If the reaction is severe, it can be life-threatening.
If your baby shows any of these symptoms, talk to your pediatrician. Make note of what your child has eaten within the last two hours of the symptoms appearing. It’s important to note that an allergy can develop at any time. So even though your child has safely eaten something before, don’t rule out an allergy to that particular food.
If your baby is experiencing peculiar skin conditions like eczema, gastrointestinal discomfort like reflux or colic, gas or constipation or has a chronic runny nose, you may choose to discuss the possibility of allergies with your pediatrician. If you are formula-feeding, an allergy or intolerance to ingredients may be the cause of discomfort. If your baby is breastfed, make a note of the mother’s diet too because trigger proteins can be transmitted through breast milk.
The likelihood of an allergy is higher if either you or your husband has a history of allergic disease in the family (environmental allergies, pet allergies, asthma).
Preventing Food Allergies
The cause of allergies (food allergies in particular) is still a mystery. Many experts like Dr. Kenneth Bock, M.D., (author of Healing the New Childhood Epidemics: Autism, ADHD, Asthma and Allergies) believe that “genetics load the gun and toxins pull the trigger.” If this is truly the case, there is little that a parent can do except be aware of the possibility and then protect their babies against known triggers and toxins.
The American Academy of Pediatrics offers some guidelines that do not guarantee the prevention of food allergies but over large population groups, are believed to help minimize the occurrence in high-risk children (those with parents or siblings with food allergies or other allergic disorders, like eczema).
* Breastfeed exclusively for at least four to six months, if possible.
* Breastfeeding isn’t possible, desirable, or workable in some circumstances. In these cases, doctors will likely recommend or prescribe hydrolysate formulas — formulas that have been broken down into simpler proteins that are considered easier to digest. At this time, extensively hydrolyzed formulas are considered the most effective for preventing allergic conditions.
* Wait until infants are four to six months old to introduce solid foods.
The following eight proteins are responsible for 90% of all food allergy reactions: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, soy, fish, shellfish and wheat. Take extra precautions when introducing new foods, especially these eight and especially if there is a genetic predisposition to allergies in your family.
Introduce new foods into your child’s diet with caution, i.e, one at a time for a duration until you feel certain that she is not reacting adversely to it. Although the idea of “preventing a food allergy” is controversial, you can still make it easier for yourself and your doctor to diagnose it by keeping foods simple and introducing new foods one at a time.
What is the Cure for Food Allergies?
Right now, there isn’t a cure for food allergies. The only available treatment for a severe reaction is a shot of epinephrine. If an allergist has diagnosed your child with a food allergy, he/she will prescribe an epinephrine auto-injector like the Epi-Pen Jr. or the TwinJect.
If your child is diagnosed with a food allergy, your challenge will be effective food management. Check My Tag’s online food allergy community provides ongoing tips on food allergy management for toddlers. Subscribe to the Check My Tag newsletter for exclusive tips on living with a food-allergic baby and toddler.