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Food Allergies in Babies and Children

Could my baby have a food allergy?

By understanding how allergies work, you may be able to recognize the early signs, just in case your baby or child has an allergy. It's also important to know what to do if your baby ever has an allergic reaction.

What happens if my baby has an allergic reaction to a food?

If your baby is allergic to a food, her body treats the food like an invader and launches an immune-system attack, the symptoms of which can be mild or severe.

Symptoms like hives, swelling, or trouble breathing, usually show up within minutes to two hours after eating a specific food. If your baby has a severe allergic reaction, it can be life threatening.

In some cases, though, food allergy symptoms, such as eczema or gastrointestinal problems like vomiting or diarrhoea, are chronic, or ongoing.  (Eczema is dry, scaly patches of skin that show up on a baby's face, arms, or legs, but usually not the diaper area.)

Babies can have a reaction to a food even if they've eaten it before without any problem. So a baby who inherited the tendency to be allergic to eggs might not have a reaction the first few times she eats them — but eventually she'll show symptoms.

Keep in mind that your baby's early exposures to the ingredient may have been when it was combined with something else — for instance, the eggs, milk, or ground nuts in a cookie.

What foods might my baby be allergic to?

It's possible to be allergic to any food, but these eight food groups are responsible for 90 percent of food allergies: eggs, milk, peanuts, wheat, soy, tree nuts (like walnuts, Brazil nuts, and cashews), fish (such as tuna, salmon, and cod), and shellfish (like lobster, shrimp, and crab).

What should I do if I think my baby's having an allergic reaction to a food?

If your baby ever seems to be having trouble breathing, has swelling of the face or lips, or develops severe vomiting or diarrhoea after eating, call your local emergency number right away.

If your baby consistently has symptoms within two hours of eating a certain food, talk with her doctor, or alternatively, you may wish to consult a dietician or homeopath.  They should be able to tell you which food or foods are causing the problem and whether the symptoms are part of an immune reaction (indicating an allergy) or are a sign that your baby's unable to digest the food (indicating a food intolerance).

Once your baby has had an allergic reaction to a food, you'll want to be prepared in case it happens again, so it is wise to consult your doctor. Even if her first reaction was mild, the next might be severe.

Make sure anyone who takes care of your baby — babysitters, relatives, daycare workers — knows about her allergy and what she shouldn't eat. Point out the kinds of foods that could hide the substance and ask caregivers to double-check ingredients. Also make certain that her caregivers know exactly what to do if she ever has an allergic reaction.

Are allergies inherited?

Babies are more likely to develop allergies if there's a history of eczema, asthma, hayfever or food allergies (known together as atopy) in the family.   Your baby may inherit the tendency to have allergies but not necessarily a specific allergy.

Do children outgrow food allergies?

Many children outgrow allergies to soy and wheat by the time they head to school. And about 20 percent of children outgrow their peanut allergy. Allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish are more likely to be lifelong than other food allergies.

Some recent studies suggest that milk and egg allergies may take longer to go away these days than before, with fewer than half of children in one study outgrowing milk or egg allergies by age 8 to 10.

What's a food intolerance and how is it different from a food allergy?

The most common type of adverse food reaction is in fact a food intolerance, and not a food allergy. A food intolerance doesn't involve the immune system. If your baby has a food intolerance, it may mean she has trouble digesting a particular food. You may notice that every time she eats or drinks that food she's plagued with digestive symptoms such as gas, bloating, or diarrhoea.

The most common one is lactose intolerance. People who are lactose intolerant lack the enzyme necessary to digest the sugar in cow's milk and other dairy products.  It's not recommended that babies under the age of 1 drink cow's milk anyway, but lactose may be present in other foods your baby ingests, including formula.

Is there anything I can do to prevent or delay a food allergy?

One thing most experts do agree on is that breastfeeding offers some protection against allergies. Consider breastfeeding your baby as long as you can, especially if you have a family history of allergies.

When you start introducing solids (weaning), offer the foods that commonly cause allergies one at a time so that you can spot any reaction. These foods are:

  • milk
  • eggs
  • wheat
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • fish and shellfish

Don't introduce any of these foods before six months.

Can food allergies be treated?

There are no medications that cure or prevent allergic reactions to foods, and the allergy shots used for hay fever don't work for food allergies. The key to preventing an allergic reaction is strict avoidance of the food.

You'll have to become vigilant about reading food labels, knowing which ingredients to avoid, and asking about ingredients in restaurant dishes or food at friends' homes.

The proteins that cause the allergy may be passed on in your breast milk. So you may need to give up the offending food yourself if you're nursing a baby with a food allergy,and if you're formula-feeding a baby who seems to be allergic to cow's milk, you may need to change formulas. Some babies who are allergic to cow's milk are also allergic to soy, though, so it's important to discuss the situation with your child's doctor before making any kind of change.

If your baby has been diagnosed with a food allergy, you'll want to learn all you can about it — including exactly which foods to avoid, how to read labels, and how to recognise the early signs of an allergic reaction

(Taken from www.babycentre.com)