How to Spot Food Allergies in Babies and How to Deal with It
One of the significant highlights of rearing an infant is for them to start eating solid food on the sixth month. After months of feeding the baby with only breastmilk or formula, many parents look forward to the day of giving their babies spoonfuls of pureed veggies or fruits. This event is very exciting but comes with concerns about food allergies in babies. It is a bit overwhelming to try out many baby food recipes but take note that you must introduce solid food little by little. In this way, it will be easier to point out what food causes what allergy.
Food allergies take place when the immune system reacts and releases the chemical referred to as histamine. The body encounters an unfamiliar proteins and this is how it responds. Histamine leads to allergy signs and symptoms. A severe form of allergy called anaphylaxis which will be discussed later can endanger the life of a child.
Science is still working in search of the answer on why there was a sudden rise of allergic diseases in the world. There is a circulating claim called ‘Hygiene Hypothesis’ which indicates that this modern, germ-free-obsessed world is making the immune system incapable of recognizing a more diverse kind of bacterias and viruses. With the body being “too clean”, it becomes sensitive to even harmless things such as food ingredients, air, or pollens. Recent surveys show that at least one or two children in a class has to deal with food allergies.
Common Food Items that Cause Allergies
Parents nowadays are keeping a keen eye for any allergic reactions that come from food. With the introduction of new food items almost every day, it pays to have knowledge on the causes of food allergies in children. Research show that there are more than a hundred of allergenic foods identified by experts but these eight have the most reported cases:
- Tree nuts
Since the food items mentioned above may be or may not be abundant in other countries, the numbers of kids with food allergies differs from one location to another. In the United States, Australia, and the UK, many children experience allergies from tree nuts and peanuts while infants from Asia and Europe are more affected with food allergens from fish, wheat, and soy.
Always Check Food Labels
In the United States, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) requires food manufacturers to disclose presence of major food allergens in the list of ingredients. These pieces of information should be cited on the food labels using plain language. This act covers food items such as infant formulas, medical food, dietary supplements, and regular food items. The allergenic ingredients can also be mentioned in the following formats:
- Using the word “Contains” plus the specific food allergen
- Or enclosed in the parenthesis when the derived product is used instead of the actual allergenic food
- Food manufacturers must specify the particular kind of shellfish or nut used in the products
FALCPA has simplified the way for consumers to read the food labels. This is in support of families who are concern with the presence of major food allergens in the products people consume everyday. This also prevents food companies to adhere to good production practices and print labels that are truthful.
It is a must to always browse the food labels to avoid believing misleading information. Ingredients in food often change without notice and so it is advisable to be on the lookout for any ingredients that may cause allergies in the family.
Symptoms of a Food Allergy
Allergy is actually a overreacting defensive response of the body against food, substance, or elements in the air. It is only natural for the immune system to fight off viruses looming in the environment. The body’s defense system has already identified that this will impose danger to one’s health.
Symptoms of food allergies can range from mild to severe and can differ on many occasions. Initial reactions may be minimal but this can turn into a full-blown allergy the next time. A life-threatening form of allergic reaction is anaphylaxis which can lead to difficulty in breathing. It causes the victim’s heart rate and blood pressure to plummet. This can occur within minutes after the person consumed a food allergen.
Take note that symptoms are the conditions experience first-hand by the affected person. Symptoms of food allergies in toddlers and infants can appear immediately after the food is eaten -- within a few minutes to a couple of hours, and can worsen when not treated as soon as possible. If you’re introducing a new food to your baby, keep an eye out for these symptoms:
- Lip, tongue, and face swelling
- Baby acne
- Stomach cramps
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Hard, repetitive coughs
- Pale skin and lip
- Watery eyes
There are cases that symptoms are delayed for a few hours. These are rare incidents but occur in children who had eczema due to food allergy in the past. A delayed food allergy symptom can be caused by Food Protein-Induced Enterocolitis Syndrome (FPIES) which affects the gastrointestinal tract.
FPIES is a protein-induced syndrome and signs can appear two to four hours after infant’s consumption of solid food with milk, soy, or wheat. Babies who are introduced to solid food early on often encounter this allergic reaction. FPIES involves the following symptoms:
- Excessive vomiting
- Bloody diarrhea
How are Food Allergies Diagnosed?
Food allergy symptoms, its extent, and condition, can vary from one child to another. As discussed earlier, allergic reactions can affect the face, skin, GI tract, and even the cardiovascular activity of the body. It is unpredictable how severe the next allergic reaction can be but it is recommended for parents of children with food allergies to be observant of the food the family eats.
Food allergies can appear at any age but it often take place during the early childhood. If you see signs of allergic reactions in your child, book an appointment with an allergist who can administer several infant allergy tests. The results of these test can help the allergist make a diagnosis. The expert can also ask these essential questions:
- What was the food consumed by the child?
- How much portion of the food was eaten?
- How long it took for the initial symptoms to appear?
- How long did the symptoms lasted?
- What were these symptoms?
A skin-prick test can be done in less than 30 minutes. The allergist will expose a portion of the child’s skin to a liquid with food allergen and observes if tiny bumps start to develop. The skin will also be exposed to a liquid without the food allergen to serve as the control for the test. This will produce a more accurate test results as two samples can be compared side by side. This test is not painful but can be quite uncomfortable for a child.
The allergist can also perform blood test to the child to detect the presence of food-specific immunoglobulin E in his or her body. Unlike skin test results that can be determined after some minutes, blood tests results can take about a week to be released.
In the event that both skin-prick and blood tests were not able to give clear results, the allergist can conduct an oral food test wherein the patient will be fed with the suspected food which triggered the allergies. This is done under strict supervision of the doctors and then followed by several hours of observation. This test is effective especially to check if the patient has outgrown his or her allergies over time.
Only experienced allergists can conduct the oral food challenge as worse allergic reaction may take place. Complete emergency equipment should be available when this kind of test is administered.
Treatment of Food Allergies
Bring your baby to his or her pediatrician when you spot mild symptoms like rashes and hives on your the skin. Once the diagnosis is made and the specific allergen is identified, the doctor will explain how to manage these allergies. It usually starts with eliminating the food that caused the allergies from baby’s meal plan.
During the visit to the doctor, don’t hesitate to ask questions related to food allergic reaction in infants.
Keep a small notebook handy so you will be able to document the manifestation of the symptoms. You can note how the allergic reactions develop in your child and the condition of the symptoms on a daily basis.
Most pediatrics recommended that parents delay the introduction of food items that contains eggs, nuts, and fish to infants. Parents can wait up until the baby is a year old before including these items to the baby’s diet.
Anaphylaxis, the fatal form of allergic reaction, can be treated with an immediate injection of epinephrine or commonly known as adrenaline. This is a natural-occurring substance in the body that relaxes the muscles and increases blood flow.
When an affected person is having difficulty in breathing due to allergic reactions, an epinephrine injection is administered. When receptors recognize this, smooth muscles on the airways subsides. This enables the heart and lungs to be back to normal. However, remember that an injection of this is only temporary solution against allergies.
Are Food Allergies Inheritable Traits?
When you bring your child to an allergist, it is an SOP for the doctor to check the family’s medical history before performing any tests.
Allergies can run from one generation to another but it is still an unpredictable phenomenon. If you suspect that your child may have the risk of developing allergies, wait until your baby is a year old before introducing any of the top eight major food allergens. Make sure to coordinate with your pediatrician regularly.
Be familiar with your child’s diet and check if he or she have potential reaction to related food. There are circumstances where an individual is allergic to shrimp but not with fish or crab meat. It is somewhat a trial and error to check what food items in the same “family” your child may be allergic. This is the reason why you should work closely with a certified allergist.
Does the Diet of a Breastfeeding Mom Influence Baby’s Food Allergies?
When food allergies in breastfed babies happen, you can’t help but wonder if it is still safe to continue breastfeeding your infant. The answer is yes.
You may find this as an unconventional answer but babies are prone to develop allergies even though they have not been fed with any food or given milk formula. However, it is still advisable to watch your diet when breastfeeding your infant to avoid triggering other forms of food allergies. You can set restrictions on the proteins you consume since these can emerge in the breast milk after a few hours. There are no particular foods to avoid but be careful with what you eat especially if your baby has already mild symptoms of food allergies.
Mothers are encouraged to still breastfeed amidst the baby’s food allergies because the breast milk is packed with vitamins and minerals that will keep the baby healthy and immune against diseases and infections. Moreover, breastfeeding creates a special connection between the mother and child. It is a form of bonding that both the mom and the baby can enjoy.
You can always adjust your diet and consume only dairy products occasionally. Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits, take calcium supplements, and multivitamins. Remember to scrutinize food labels and look out for allergens that may be present in the ingredient list.
Since babies are still not conscious about their food intake, parents carry a huge responsibility when it comes to their child’s meal preparation. It is a fact that parents want the food that can provide nutrients to their kids but it is a preventative measure to do a bit of research before adding new items on the child’s menu.