Does your child have a food allergy? No need to panic. According to the Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy, a food allergy occurs in around one in 20 children, with the most common triggers being eggs, cow’s milk, peanuts, tree nuts, seafood, sesame, soy, fish and wheat.
The good news is that most allergies are outgrown. Peanut, tree nut, seed and seafood allergies, however, are usually for life.
How do allergies start?
"Babies tend to be most allergic to the foods they have been offered first. While a baby is exclusively breastfed, he is only exposed to the foods his mother eats and secretes in her milk, so his exposure to potential allergens is minimised,” says the International La Leche League.
They cite a long-term study of children who were breastfed. The results showed that breastfeeding reduces food allergies at least through adolescence.
From the study: “Protection from allergies is one of the most important benefits of breastfeeding. The incidence of cow's milk allergies is up to seven times greater in babies who are fed artificial baby milk instead of human milk.”
Further information from La Leche reveals that cow’s milk is the most common trigger for an allergic reaction. “There are more than 20 substances in cow’s milk that have been shown to be human allergens.
Colic and vomiting are often caused by cow’s milk allergy. Eczema – dry, rough, red skin patches which can progress to open, weeping sores - is another common symptom among children allergic to cow's milk.
Cow's milk has been found to cause sleeplessness in infants and toddlers.”
It is, however, important to first understand the difference between an allergy and an intolerance.
A food allergy is classified as an immune system response. If a person is allergic to a food substance, the immune system “reacts” by creating an antibody to fight it. If it is a severe food allergy, the reaction could be life-threatening.
A food intolerance is a digestive system response where the food that cannot be “tolerated” irritates the digestive system and the person is unable to digest or break down the food.
Common signs of a food allergy
- Itchy throat and tongue
- Itchy skin or rash
- Swollen lips and throat
- Diarrhoea and/or vomiting
- Runny or blocked nose
If you suspect a food allergy, consult with your paediatrician for a comprehensive diagnosis and treatment options. Babies and toddlers are usually not given antihistamines unless the doctor has clearly identified the allergy as the cause of his symptoms and there is a very good case for treatment. Depending on how bad the allergy is, the doctor may recommend that you carry injectable adrenaline.
With awareness and planning, you can efficiently manage your child’s allergy.
1. Be diligent about checking food labels for allergens. This is something you will continually have to do as your child grows and eats different foods.
2. Birthday parties and play dates can be a minefield to navigate. As far as possible try to find out the menu beforehand and check for potential allergens. To be on the safe side, bring along a pre-prepared meal.
3. Ensure that friends, the school and family are aware of your child’s allergy. Everyone in your child’s life needs to know this information and how to handle an emergency.
4. As your child grows up, make them aware of the allergy so that they become self-trained in avoiding foods that spark the issue. It will also help them understand the importance of taking their medication. Show them how to use it and teach them a simple way of explaining their allergy to friends.
5. Create a little buzz around the allergy. Make it a special thing rather than something that separates them from others. If they are allergic to nuts for example, why not create a treat without nuts that becomes their unique indulgence?
Good to know
Compile a little carry-card that goes everywhere with your child with the following information:
- The food that causes the allergy.
- Symptoms of allergic reaction.
- Treatment in an emergency.
- Your contact information.