Allergies are a big concern for parents, which isn’t a surprise given that childhood allergies are on the rise. And according to Allergy UK, there has been an increase in allergy prevalence of children between 0 – 4 years. But it’s also good to note that the actual incidence of food allergy in babies is low – about 3 – 6%.
The most common food allergies in babies and children are cow’s milk, eggs, nuts (and that’s tree nuts and peanuts) and sesame.
The concern over allergies particularly applies to parents of children with early-onset eczema, who have a 30 – 50% risk of developing food allergy if it is severe.
Whilst family allergy history plays a role in how prone to food allergy a baby may be, specific food allergies are not inherited. Food allergies are more common amongst children from families where other members suffer from an allergy, because of the increased risk of eczema, which increases the risk of having food allergies.
The Department of Health and Social Care recommends that potentially allergenic foods such as eggs or peanuts can be introduced from 6 months of age. In fact, for those babies who don’t have parents or siblings with allergies, or who don’t have early-onset eczema, start introducing allergenic foods in the same way you would with any other food. This is because delaying the introduction of these foods into the diet may increase the risk of allergies developing. If there are allergies in the family, or you think that your baby may be at risk because they suffer from eczema, then you should discuss this with your health visitor or GP.
If you are worried about allergies, it’s a good idea to introduce a new food in the morning or earlier on in the day so that you can keep a close eye on them which is particularly useful for any potential delayed reactions which might take a little time to develop. Consider introducing potentially allergenic foods one at a time, with a gap of forty-eight hours between each new food. This makes it easier to identify any food that causes a reaction.
Then once your baby has had several attempts at eating the individual foods, you can start combining them. It may be helpful to keep a food and symptom diary to identify any foods that may have triggered a reaction.
Spotting allergy symptoms in your baby
Allergy symptoms can be mild, moderate or severe, and there is no guarantee that a mild reaction on one occasion won’t lead to a more serious reaction on another.
Some food allergies are quite easy to spot – within minutes or up to 2 hours after the food is eaten (often for the first or second time). The symptoms may consist of:
• Red rash
• Swelling of mouth/throat
• Wheezing/shortness of breath
The most serious type of immediate allergic reaction is anaphylaxis – this is an emergency situation where a person’s airways become blocked due to swelling and their blood pressure can drop suddenly as their body tries to deal with the issue causing the reaction. In this instance, call 999 for an ambulance or take your baby straight to A&E.
It is possible to have delayed allergic reactions. These typically develop from 2 hours a¬fter the food is eaten but can take up to 48 hours to present themselves. These consist of:
• Constant runny or blocked nose
• Blood in the stools
• Gastroesophageal reflux disease
• Colic type symptoms, in association with other allergic symptoms
• Poor weight gain, in association with other allergic symptoms
Some seemingly mild symptoms can also lead to more severe conditions. For example, itchy rashes can escalate to skin infections. That’s why it is important to raise any concerns, however small they may seem, with your GP or health visitor.
Cow’s milk allergy
If your child has an allergy to Cow’s milk or is lactose intolerant simply type DAIRY FREE into the search box and all the Dairy-Free recipes on the App will appear. For recipes that contain milk, you can substitute a special infant formula or alternative dairy-free milk for babies over one. There are some excellent dairy-free cheeses available in supermarkets so you don’t need to avoid recipes with cheese.
Emerging research has found that giving babies eggs when they are being weaned from 6 months may reduce the risk of developing an egg allergy and introducing eggs at this early stage is said to provide the best chance of creating tolerance – when the immune system accepts the egg without reaction.
Research has found that 70 – 80% percent of children with an egg allergy can eat baked egg in meatballs, cakes and biscuits for example. But it’s worth noting that in those who do react, the reactions can be severe. A baby or child with an egg allergy should be tested by an experienced doctor before eating any foods containing baked egg. This may need to be done under direct medical supervision.
As with cow’s milk allergy, your GP is responsible for the diagnosis process and for providing ongoing support with a dietitian or allergy specialist if required.
Thankfully, recipes can be easily adapted using egg replacers or other ingredients. For lots of recipes for egg-allergic babies, toddlers as well as family meals type Egg-Free into the search box and all the Egg-Free recipes on the App will appear.