When your little one starts solid foods it is an exciting milestone! However, this milestone often comes with a lot of questions and concerns, especially about food allergies. It can be a very nerve wracking time for parents with all of the unknowns, but by educating ourselves on common food allergies, their signs and symptoms, as well as what to do when our little one is experiencing an allergic reaction, we will be as well prepared as possible for the uncertainties that come with this milestone. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about infant food allergies, as well as tips for starting your little one on solids and how to recognize the most common foods and food groups allergens and their reactions.
12. What Are Some Good Tips For Starting Solids With My Infant?
When feeding your baby solids for the first time, it is important to introduce new foods gradually, one at a time, in case of food allergies, or parents may have trouble tying an allergy to a specific new food. For example, if you feed your baby a few new foods over the course of one day and they develop an allergic reaction, you won’t know which food provoked it.
It is suggested that you wait three to five days before introducing a new food to your little one, as some allergic reactions can be delayed. Each time you introduce a new food, you don’t have to eliminate the other foods that you know are safe and didn’t cause your child to have an allergic reaction.
11. What Is The Difference Between A Food Intolerance and A Food Allergy?
With the introduction of any new food, you’ll want to be on the lookout for any allergic reactions. However, a food intolerance and food allergies are often confused. A food intolerance presents symptoms that are generally less serious and often limited to digestive problems, whereas a food allergy causes an immune system reaction that affects numerous organs in the body, causing a range of symptoms that can be severe or even life-threatening.
If your little one has frequent stomach issues after eating a particular food (ie. gas, bloating, diarrhea, cramping or vomiting) — they may have a food intolerance. Basically, their digestive system isn’t able to comfortable handle the food. As many as 15% of babies under 12 months have some sort of food intolerance, however the severity of it can vary enormously. Sometimes an intolerance can last a few days, other times it may persist, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will never be able to eat that food — try introducing it again in 8 weeks, as the problem often goes away.
10. What Are Common Food Allergy Signs and Symptoms?
Did you know there are over 160 food possible food allergens? About 8% of babies have food allergies. When an infant is exposed to a particular food, their immune system essentially overreacts, and releases chemicals that cause allergy symptoms. When the baby eats that food again, they will quickly begin to experience symptoms that range in severity.
The most common symptoms of a food allergy in babies and toddlers include: belly pain, coughing, diarrhea, fainting, hives or rash, nausea or vomiting, red rash around the mouth, runny or stuffy nose, swelling of the lips, face, tongue, legs, or arms, tightness in the throat, trouble breathing, or wheezing. Food allergies can cause sudden and serious life-threatening symptoms. If your child is having trouble breathing, it can cause their blood pressure to drop rapidly causing shock. Signs of shock include pale, clammy skin and dizziness. This type of reaction is known as anaphylaxis. If anaphylaxis occurs, call 911 — seek medical care right away!
What Are The Most Common Food Allergens?
A lactose intolerance and a milk allergy are not the same thing, however they are often confused. A lactose intolerance is when you can’t digest lactose, the sugar that is found in dairy products. This usually presents itself with symptoms like stomach pain, gas, and diarrhea. A milk allergy on the other hand, has symptoms that affect more than just your digestive tract. A milk allergy causes your immune system to think dairy is a foreign invader and attacks it by releasing chemicals known as histamines. Symptoms of milk allergies can range from wheezing to vomiting and bloody stool or diarrhea.
Sometime parents wonder if their child is only allergic to cow’s milk, however the answer is often no. Proteins in other milks, such as goat’s milk are similar to those in cow’s milk and can also cause a similar reaction. If your child has an allergy to milk, it is important that you familiarize yourself with products containing milk, to ensure that you don’t unknowingly expose them to the allergen in other food sources. Dairy products are an important source of calcium, protein, and vitamins D and B12, so if your child has an allergy to milk, foods such as broccoli, spinach, and soy products can help fill the void. Look for soy or almond milks that are fortified with calcium and vitamin D if you are looking for a liquid substitute.
8. Peanuts & Tree Nuts
A small handful of nuts can be a great protein-filled snack, however nuts are becoming more off-limits for a growing number of children and adults, as they are often banned from school lunches, birthday parties, and even workplaces. Nuts can do a lot of damage and cause some very severe allergic reactions for some people. Allergic reactions to peanuts can be caused by coming in direct contact with the nut by eating one, or through skin contact, by breathing in peanut dust, or eating something made with peanut oil. Some people are so sensitive that even indirect cross-contact can trigger a reaction. For example, if you were at a restaurant and one of the chefs cooking utensil came in contact with the nut allergen and wasn’t washed well, trace amounts could get onto your meal can cause an allergic reaction.
Symptoms of nut allergies typically occur within minutes of exposure, and can include: tightening in the throat, shortness of breath or wheezing, skin reactions such as hives or redness, runny nose, itching or tingling in the mouth or throat, diarrhea, nausea, stomach cramps, or vomiting. If your child has an allergy to peanuts, it does not mean they will have allergies to other nuts and legumes. Peanuts grow underground and are different from almonds, walnuts, cashews, and other tree nuts. Some studies have found that 25% to 40% of people who have a peanut allergy are allergic to tree nuts too. Tree nuts include: almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, chestnuts, filberts, hazelnuts, hickory nuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts.
7. Fish & Shellfish
Unlike other food allergies, which are typically first observed in babies and young children, an allergy to fish many not become apparent until adulthood, though it can certainly present itself early, so parents should still be on the lookout for allergic reactions when introducing seafoods to their children for the first time. Having an allergy to finned fish (such as tuna, halibut or salmon) does not mean that you are also allergic to shellfish (shrimp, crab and lobster).
Some allergists may recommend that individuals with a fish allergy avoid eating all fish, it may be possible for someone to be allergic to one type of fish, while safely being able to eat others. An allergist can help determine what other varieties may be safe to eat. Common fish allergy symptoms include: hives or a skin rash, nausea, stomach cramps, indigestion, vomiting and/or diarrhea, stuffy or runny nose and/or sneezing, headaches, asthma, or anaphylaxis — which is less common. Again, when dining out, even cross-contact can cause individuals with fish and shellfish allergies to react, so be mindful of this!
Infants sometimes have an allergic reaction to eggs. The good news however, unlike peanut, tree nut and shellfish allergies that tend to persist, some allergies like eggs and milk often go away with time as a child gets older! Most kids outgrow this allergy by age 5 and can eat eggs with no problem after that. Egg allergies occur in children often because their immune system hasn’t fully developed and can’t handle the protein in eggs. Most children are allergic to the protein in the egg whites, while fewer cases are caused by reactions to the protein in the egg’s yolk.
A baby who is allergic to eggs may feel sick or get a rash after eating eggs or any food containing eggs. The reaction could happen fast or it might take a few hours. Signs and symptoms of an egg allergy include: hives, eczema, flushing, or swelling, belly pain, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, itching around the mouth, runny nose, wheezing, difficulty breathing, rapid heartbeat, or low blood pressure. With any food allergy, it is important to remember that even mild reactions may get worse upon following exposures, so talk to your pediatrician about any food allergy symptoms in your baby.
Good news is that most children outgrow soy allergies too. Soy allergy symptoms may include: asthma, atopic dermatitis, colitis, diarrhea, eczema, fever, itching,vomiting, or wheezing and typically start to appear within 48 hours after a child eats or drinks soy protein. Unfortunately, up to 50% of children who are allergic to cow’s milk may also be allergic to soy protein.
If you suspect your child has an allergy to soy, completely remove soy products from their diet, and contact your pediatrician. Under their guidance or supervision, they may ask you to cautiously reintroduce soy into their diet to see if the symptoms return. If your child does have an allergy to soy, you might want to keep a close eye on how they respond to other legumes such as peas, peanuts, lentils and garbanzo beans, as they may also be allergic to these.
Most parents will introduce their babies to whole grain breads that include wheat around 8 to 9 months old. Wheat, along with dairy products, is one of the most confusing of the foods that we introduce to our babies. Since wheat is a common allergen, some people believe that it should be avoided in our baby’s diet until after 12 months old, however, some studies show that delaying exposure until after six months of age was associated with an increased risk of wheat allergy.
Recent studies suggest that introducing common allergen foods earlier rather than later may actually help prevent your little one from developing allergic reactions to those foods. If you have any questions or concerns, certainly talk to your pediatrician. A child with a wheat allergy is likely to develop symptoms within minutes to hours after eating something containing wheat. Wheat allergy symptoms include: swelling, itching or irritation of the mouth or throat, hives, itchy rash or swelling of the skin, nasal congestion, headache, itchy watery eyes, difficulty breathing, cramps, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, or anaphylaxis. Most children with a wheat allergy outgrow it by ages 3 to 5 years.
3. What Should I Do If I Think My Child Might Have A Food Allergy?
If your little one is having trouble breathing, has swelling of the face or lips, or develops severe vomiting or diarrhea after eating, call 911 immediately. Your child’s airway can close up within minutes, so skip calling the doctor or trying to drive your child to the emergency room — you will need paramedics on the scene as soon as possible. If your child experience some of the other (less severe) symptoms within two hours of eating a certain food, talk with your pediatrician. They may wish to refer you to a pediatric allergist for testing, so they can confirm which foods are causing the problem and whether the symptoms are part of an immune reaction (indicating an allergy), or if they are signs that your child is unable to easily digest the food (indicating and intolerance).
Once your child experiences an allergic reaction to food, you will want to take all precautions and be prepared in case it happens again. Remember, that even if your child’s first reaction is mild in nature, they might have a more severe reaction the next time. So, talk to your doctor if you have even the slightest concern that your child has a food allergy, and they will be able to provide you with an action plan, including instructions on how to manage an allergic reaction.
2. Do Genetics Impact Food Allergies In Children?
Many parents wonder — are allergies are inherited? The answer to this question is that your child may in fact inherit the tendency to have allergies, but not necessarily inherit a specific allergy. Children, especially infants and toddlers, are more likely to develop food allergies if there is a family member who has food allergies, although it is not a certainty. If one of a child’s parents has food allergies, there is a 50-50 chance the child will have food allergies as well. The risk is elevated even further to 75% chance for families where both parents have allergies. Studies also show that children who suffer from eczema, are more likely to develop food allergies, too.
Food allergies can start at any age. A child with a food allergy is two to four times more likely to have other allergies and related conditions, such as dermatitis and asthma, than children who do not have allergies. The good news is however, that many children can outgrow their allergies, however allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish are more likely to be lifelong allergies than other food allergies.
1. Is There Anything I Can Do To Delay Or Prevent My Child From Food Allergies?
In the past, many doctors recommended delaying the introduction of certain high-potential allergen foods to children who seemed more likely to have allergies because their parents had allergies. As mentioned early, more recent studies suggest that early exposure to potential food allergens could in fact decrease the likelihood of your child developing an allergy to that food. Many doctors recommend breastfeeding your baby as long as you can as it may offer protection against allergies, especially if your family has a family history of allergies.
While on the topic of breastfeeding, a baby may show signs of a food allergy even before they start formula or solid foods. Babies can develop allergies to foods that you are eating while you breastfeed. Symptoms may include: diarrhea, blood stool, vomiting, colic, eczema, constipation and poor growth. So remember to always pay attention to signs of allergies, and talk to your pediatrician if you have any concerns that your little one has an allergy. They may suggest removing certain things from your diet, to see if it has an affect on the symptoms your baby was presenting. But this does not mean you have to preemptively avoid certain foods when breastfeeding or during pregnancy, as these are not going to increase your child’s risk of developing allergies.