Food Allergies In Babies: Symptoms & Treatment
Many parents worry about whether their baby has a food allergy — particularly when they seem to run in the family. However, knowing how to identify food allergies in babies, as well as how to respond appropriately, can give you the tools you need to deal with any allergic reactions your child might have.
Rashes such as hives or eczema are among the most common first symptoms of food allergies in babies from 6 to 12 months old. Of course, it is common for infants to experience rashes that are not allergy-related, but it is still important to report them to your child’s paediatrician. Although hives alone may not seem threatening, allergic reactions can worsen with subsequent exposures to the triggering food, so it’s essential to note these first signs of an allergy.
An allergic reaction to food may also cause respiratory problems such as repetitive coughing or wheezing, which many parents misconstrue as a cold. More severe reactions to food allergies in babies can leave a child acting sleepy, floppy or completely unable to be awakened. Mild to severe abdominal pain and vomiting can also be symptomatic.
Severe allergic reaction start initially as a mild reaction, so it’s important to be on the lookout for all of these allergy symptoms, which usually occur about 10 to 20 minutes after eating. Note that all food allergies present differently, and that some may not present until the second or even third time that your child consumes the food. Foods like milk and wheat can be eaten even more times before allergic symptoms will appear.
If you suspect that your child has a mild food allergy, go to your GP who will refer you to testing at an allergy clinic. Not every NHS hospital will have an allergy clinic, so make sure you know where you need to go. Mild symptoms can usually be treated with an antihistamine, or with an albuterol inhaler, if the main symptom is mild wheezing.
In the case of a respiratory or other severe reaction, call a local emergency number immediately. Extreme symptoms of food allergies can be treated with adrenaline, often administered through an epinephrine auto-injector (an EpiPen, for example). As long as the child is not in respiratory distress, you should lay your baby face up with their legs elevated until help arrives. Elevating the legs increases blood flow to the heart and brain. If your child is in respiratory distress, they might find it easier to breathe if they are sitting up.
Make sure that you fully inform your baby’s nursery school, nanny and babysitters about what food allergies your baby has, and how they should treat the symptoms.
Prevention: Avoiding Allergens
Many ‘Old Wives Tales’ maintain that pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid eating potential allergens to protect their little ones from baby allergies. Current medical recommendations however say women should not restrict their diet: eating foods that commonly cause allergic reactions can in fact lower foetus’s chances of developing food allergies later on. For instance, one study found that eating peanuts during pregnancy reduced the likelihood of having a child with a peanut allergy.
Similarly, recent research has begun to question the efficacy of avoiding allergens when feeding an older infant. In a study published in 2015, researchers suggest that early introduction and frequent consumption of peanuts by infants may actually reduce their risk of developing food allergies. With that said, talk to your paediatrician about introducing highly allergenic foods to your infant, particularly if food allergies run in your family.