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Common Food Allergies in Young Children

Some babies develop allergies to certain foods as they grow older. No longer being exclusively on breast or formula milk, babies develop an allergic reaction to certain food types. Many young babies outgrow the allergy by the time they are two, but some continue to stay sensitive to allergenic foods such as peanuts, shellfish throughout their lives as such allergies remain.

Food allergy occurs when the immune system over-reacts to certain foods. When a particular food enters your child's body the immune system reacts by attacking that food quite immediately. This type of allergic response is classified as Type I allergy (IgE). Estimates show that one in ten children is prone to a food allergy.

If your child has had an allergic reaction to a particular food in the past, the attack might be more severe the second time round. Do not ignore mild reactions.

Signs of an Allergic Reaction

Allergic reactions are almost immediate provoked by an immune response to the food allergen, and the signs include one or more of the following:

Itching around the mouth area
Swelling in the face area e.g. lips, eyes, tongue
Increased heart rate
Abdominal pain
Difficulty in breathing, wheezing

Allergic reactions can be controlled by not giving the suspected food to your child. Feed your child a varied wholesome diet and avoid introducing potentially allergic causing food to the very young child, especially if there is a family history.

Is your child having runny, congested nose, dark rings under eyes, line across bridge of nose caused by constant rubbing, or red ears? This means your child has an 'allergic face'.

List of Common Allergies

The most common food allergens in babies and children are cow's milk, nuts, eggs, soy products, shellfish and citrus fruits. Fortunately children are less allergic to foods that possess the greatest potential to trigger dire reactions such as shellfish, sesame. Below are the highlights of the more common allergy-causing foods.

Peanut and Tree nuts Allergy

Peanuts belong to the legume family and not to the nut family contrary to popular belief. An allergic reaction arises because of the protein present in it. Unlike other food allergens such as dairy, peanut allergy becomes severe over time and doesn't go away as the child grows older. Tree nuts is what is known as 'true' nuts and includes cashews, brazil nuts, walnuts, cashews, pistachios, chestnuts (not water chestnut), almonds, pecans and pine nuts. Because of cross-contamination, it is safer to avoid all nuts if there is an allergy to peanuts. Avoid seeds, in particular sesame seeds as well. Coconuts do not belong to this category and can be added to the diet. The most severe form of reaction is the very harsh, life-threatening anaphylaxis in which the throat swells up, breathing and talking becomes difficult and rashes can appear. If there is a family history of eczema, asthma etc, do not introduce any sort of nut to the child until the age of 3. However if there is no such history small amounts of nut oils, smooth nut butters or grounded nuts can be introduced after 7 months.

Egg Allergy

Egg allergy is most common under 12 months and becomes progressively less of a food hazard after this period. Egg white can be highly allergenic and is therefore not encouraged before the child turns one. Although some doctors allow egg yolk at nine months, the yellow and the whites can get mixed up. To play it safe it is better to introduce the egg as a whole after a child is a year old. When the baby is a year old, her immune system is mature enough to handle it. Most children outgrow egg sensitivity by the time they turn 6 but few continue to react to this food as adults. Signs include a rash around the mouth within seconds of consuming the egg, followed by a swelling around the inside of the mouth and on the face. Some babies vomit. After a while parts of the skin can swell, eczema may develop and/or wheezing or watery eyes. Apart from egg, look out for the ingredient 'albumen' on food labels and avoid it.

Cow's Milk Allergy

Milk allergy often manifests early, in the first year of life when the child is on milk-based formula. It doesn't manifest when the baby is on breast milk or hydrolysate formula. Symptoms include abdominal pains, runny nose and wheezing, diarrhea, and vomiting commonly caused by the reaction to milk protein known as casein. Most often babies outgrow the sensitivity by three. Cow milk should not be given until the child is one due to poor tolerance. Children with this allergy generally cannot tolerate any milk or milk products. If your child is allergic to the milk protein, goat's milk may cause a similar reaction. If a child doesn't outgrow this allergy, a dairy free diet will need to be incorporated.

Virtually any food or food additive can be a cause for an allergic reaction. Read food labels relentlessly.

Did you know..

• A baby's intestines are immature and therefore porous. This allows food particles to pass through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream. The immune system identifies the 'unwanted food' and attacks it, and this triggers an allergic reaction.

• Inherited allergies i.e. those that run in the family are called atopy.

• Many allergens are hidden in processed foods. Examples are nut oils, lecithin, vegetable fats, and hydrolyzed vegetable protein from soya bean. Many allergens (wheat, dairy) come in other guises. Examples include semolina, couscous, durum, malt, cereal protein, whey, lactose, casein etc. Reading food labels becomes an essential must to ensure you are removing such offending ingredients from your child's diet.

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Disclaimer: Information contained on this Web site is intended solely to make available general summarized information to the public. It should not be substituted for medical advice. It is your responsibility to consult with your pediatrician and/or health care provider before acting on any advice on this web site. While OEM endeavors to provide up-to-date and accurate information, it is not liable for any advice whatsoever rendered nor is it liable for the completeness or timeliness of any information on this site.
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