A baby’s food is a mother’s prime concern.  A variety of nourishing foods are available. However babies’ eating preferences are very sensitive. A darker side of this is food allergy.

It has been noted that 1 in 12 children face an allergy due to food. It is paramount for every mother to know how a particular food affects their baby. This becomes all the more important to new mothers who don’t have elders to advice.

So what is a food allergy all about?

1- Food Allergy

An allergy is a reaction mechanism developed by the immune system to deal with any new substance detected in the blood stream. As a result the human body produces antibodies to flush out the foreign element. While this battle rages inside the body a few symptoms are bound to show outwardly. These can consists of fever, body aches, rashes, and skin infection. The intensity of these symptoms varies.

Food allergies can badly hit baby health. Since babies have sensitive digestive system and their immunity is not well developed skin allergy is a potent health hazard for them

2- Symptoms

The commonest symptoms of an allergy are as under:

  • runny nose, sneezing, wheezing
  • Swelling in eyes, tongue, or lips
  • Irregular, difficult, noisy breathing or a tightened throat
  • itchy skin rashes, swelling, hives
  • Persistent pain in abdomen or diarrhea
  • Vomiting, Infantile colic, blood in the stool
  • Poor growth.

3- Do you suspect an allergic reaction?

If your toddler exhibits any of the symptoms enumerated above be quick to call 911. If you have access to any other emergency line, use it.

  • Check for consistency in the effect of the food administered daily. If you suspect a pattern in symptoms that show up after taking certain foods consult the pediatrician.
  • Sometimes the cause of these symptoms is not  any food allergy but food intolerance a similar but entirely different problem

4-The diagnosis

The best practice when you observe your baby developing the aforementioned symptoms is to consult the doctor immediately. Based on your inputs the doctor will suggest a future plan. He may suggest an allergist for specialized and immediate treatment. A number of tests are done to confirm the particular food allergy.

  • A skin test is the basic test preferred for its simplicity. A miniscule amount of extracts adduced from the suspected food is introduced into the skin via a tiny needle. Usually this test is done on forearm of the child. If the allergy exists the punctured skin will respond immediately with wheals. Wheals are reddish spots that populate the skin. The effects of the test can be seen in 15 minutes. The allergist can suggest more tests for confirmation.
  • The RAST are a category of blood tests which are performed to confirm the presence of IgE antibodies which arise in response to a particular food. RAST stands for radio allegro sorbent tests and measures the IgE concentrations of the blood. Every food has a set limit for a particular antibody. When the limits are crossed the allergy to the food is confirmed.
  • The positive results in the skin test and the RAST confirm the presence of allergy in the blood and further tests are seldom sought.
  • Sometimes the allergist may get ambiguous results from the tests. He may then resort to the food challenge. This is a very sensitive test and can be performed only by expert technicians in a fully functional and equipped laboratory.

You must talk to your doctor immediately and know whether your child has any symptoms of food allergy. Remember, it is very easy for a parent to misinterpret the signs and symptoms of food allergies. So being aware is the only option available with you.

5- What to do after the allergy is confirmed

Once you have consulted the specialist and got the medical opinion it’s time to prepare you for any such future attacks.

  • Ask the doctor to prepare a line of action if the problem resurfaces. This basically consists of detailed instructions about dealing with a similar situation.
  • These days a doctor usually suggests an auto-injector to administer epinephrine. These are handy devices to administer epinephrine automatically to arrest any allergy.
  • A food diary may be the next thing which can be used to identify what particular food is causing the reaction.

Remember that you have to be extremely careful with food allergies. Once they have been confirmed, just start being very cautious in what food your baby eats.

6- Taking care of the baby

Taking care of a baby with an allergy requires minute attention to the doctor’s instructions. There are other steps that need to be taken so that the baby has a speedy recovery.

  • The preferred action plan is to avoid the particular food suspected completely. This may be difficult since it may sometimes impact the food habits of the family. However this is the key to an effective recovery plan.
  • If you rely on relatives, babysitters, or daycare workers it is very important that they be made aware of the situation. Explain the doctor’s advice to them in plain words. How to check which food contains what and the action plan if a symptom is detected.
  • Antihistamines are believed to be the general treatment of allergies. So these must be carried always. But seek very specific advice from the doctor if they can be used with the baby.
  • A baby must be administered the best diet which supports its growing needs. However if the baby has been barred from specific foods the nutrition may not be amply conveyed. This is a serious issue with infants allergic to milk.
  • Fortunately, special substitutes for milk exist today. Check out similar solutions with your allergist that specifically applies to your baby.

7-Can the food allergy be prevented or delayed?

It is a question that would exclusively concern new mothers. If their baby has had an allergy they will surely want to prevent the problem in future, as the baby grows.

  • Breastfeeding is suggested by most experts for the first 4 initial months of childbirth to gain resistance against eczema and milk allergy. A lot of experts believe, provides protection from allergies. This is especially important if you know of that it’s a genetic problem that recurs within the family.
  • The protein content of Breast milk is much lesser than say soy formulae and cow milk. Moreover its chemistry is quite similar to infants own body.
  • Some babies are hyper-allergic and exhibit reaction even if the breastfeeding mother is eating those foods. In such cases it is advised that the mother desist from those particular foods.
  • Introducing new foods to the baby is a topic that only the doctor can handle. Ask the doctor about the best ways to do so.
  • Fee the new food with intervals of days. This will improve tolerance. Moreover it may provide hints as what particular foods the baby is reacting to.
  • Please don’t forget to take the baby to the doctor as it grows. Allergy tests may have to be repeatedly tested for the impact medication and preventive measures have had.
  • Regular visits are also important to check if the baby is developing any similar allergies caused by other foods.
  • Ultimately the baby can outgrow the particular reaction and grow into a healthy child. The prohibited foods can now be reintroduced to support the body growth.
  • At that point, you may be referred to a gastroenterologist to pinpoint the cause of the intolerance or to investigate other explanations for your baby’s symptoms.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has suggested that delaying certain types of foods has basis in genetics. It is believed that it works because possibly the parents had similar problems in childhood. Delaying the food introduction could allow the body to outgrow those tendencies.

The AAP in January 2008 published a report and confirmed that its previous stand on delaying certain foods is not supported by clinical evidence.

8-Outgrowing food allergies

Evidence suggests that a number of food allergies can be outgrown. Peanut allergy is known to be outgrown in about 20 percent of the children suffering with the problem as infants.

The allergy to wheat and soy are overcome by the time the child is ready to join a school. Similarly it takes 8 to 10 years to outgrow allergies due to egg and milk.

However allergies caused by tree nuts, peanuts, shellfish and fish may take a lifelong to be subdued.

9-Avoiding food allergies

Here are some tips against allergies suggested by the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • Don’t introduce solid food until the child is 4-6 months old.
  • Introduce a single food and then wait for at least 4 days and then use another food.
  • Watch for the specific reaction to each food and if any occur consult the doctor.
  • If a parent or a sibling of the baby has shown sensitivity to a particular food the baby is susceptible to the particular food allergy. Mention this information when consulting the pediatrician

10-Cross-reactivity

This is a phenomenon wherein the allergy is induced in an individual due to a particular group or category of food. These foods are related chemically or some common ingredient is common to them. As an example, consider allergy induced by shrimp. Then there is a possibility that the person will exhibit similar reaction to related food like crab and lobster.

Common foods responsible for allergies

  • Dairy products such as Cow milk
  • Tree nuts like pecans, walnuts etc.
  • Berries and Citrus fruits
  • Soy, Wheat, Peanuts
  • Eggs, shellfish and fish

11-What is the treatment for food allergies?

Extensive research has revealed that there is no direct cure for food allergies. The only solution to allergy seems to be a plan for preventing the reaction and continued supervision of the baby’s health.

  • Much work has been done in the field of desensitization wherein certain drugs can be used to subdue the symptoms.
  • There should be a constant correspondence with the pediatricians and the dietary experts to decide the best diet for the baby. This has to continue into later years so that the baby’s development is not hindered.

12-Genetics and Allergies

It has been suggested by studies that the baby is prone to food allergy if the siblings have had similar problems. Moreover if the symptoms existed in parents then the baby may also show sensitivity to specific foods. The chances of getting food allergies from parents vary from 50 to 75 percent.

13-Food intolerance- different but similar

Food intolerance is different from food allergy in a very fundamental way. Allergy occurs in response to allergens and the signature effect is the production of antibodies with a variety of resulting symptoms.  In the case of food intolerance there is no production of the antibodies.

  • The symptoms of food intolerance resemble those produced by the food allergies. However they are milder.
  • The real reason for food intolerances is the inability of the body to digest particular food due to its chemical structure or due to the preservatives and additives added to these foods.
  • Lactose intolerance is the commonest form of the malady among babies. This is caused when people lack a particular enzyme needed to process cow milk and similar dairy products.

American Academy of Pediatrics believes that food intolerance disappear or is subdued by the age of 5 years.

14-Symptoms of Food intolerance

  • Skin rashes, Eczema, hives
  • Sudden congestion  of the nose
  • Eyes become red or puffy or encircled by dark circles
  • Diarrhea, bloating, excessive gas

15-Becoming aware

If your child is suffering from food allergy educate yourself about it.

  • Do your researches on the internet, read books, talk to people who have faced similar problems and if necessary consult an expert.
  • Try to ascertain the ingredients with the help of food labels. If you are unsure consult the vendor or a dietician.
  • Seek help from organizations like Food Allergy Network and try to build a network of such resources.

In the end, we would recommend you to be alert and try to learn as much as you can about food allergy for this is essential for yours baby’s health.

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