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Food Intolerance in Young Children

Babies and young children can develop food intolerance, mostly when they are weaned off breast or formula milk. Often food intolerance gets confused with food allergy but there are underlying differences between the two.

Differences between Delayed food reaction and Acute Allergy

• The easiest way to look at the difference between the two is that in acute allergy the child's body becomes sensitized to the substance and produces antibodies to counter it. This happens whenever the body encounters the 'forbidden substance', never mind the quantity or the number of times.

• A child with a food allergy must avoid the food completely, more so if the reaction is severe. A child with food intolerance doesn't have to be as finicky; a small amount of the offending food can be tolerated.

• An example that distinguishes the two well enough is: a lactose intolerant baby lacks the enzyme to digest the milk sugar and may consequently suffer abdominal pain, gassiness and possibly diarrhea. On the other hand a baby with true milk allergy will also have blood and/or mucus in the stool.

Food intolerance or food sensitivity causes a delayed response to occur that propagates with time. It doesn't necessarily involve any immune response. Food intolerances can build over time and are usually caused by foods given on a frequent basis to your child, unknowingly of course. Such response to food is classified as Type II allergy (IgG).

Food intolerances are not allergic reactions because there is no immune response to the allergen.

Signs of Food Intolerance

Often there is a delayed response and the reaction can be difficult to isolate. Food intolerance is mostly associated with foods eaten on a daily basis, often several times a day from a very early age, such as bread and milk. Rotating foods by providing a varied diet to your child helps control the development of food sensitivity.

Colic in babies
Digestive problems and stomach aches
Poor appetite
Persistent diarrhea
Recurrent ear infections
Rash around mouth area
Rhinitis (runny or congested nose)
Urticaria (hives)
Migraines or headaches
Aching muscles and unexplained fatigue

Dairy Intolerance

One of the main offenders, dairy (milk and related products) causes common problems of runny nose (chronic rhinitis) and blocked ears (otitis media) in children. You may wonder why a baby who had no issues with breast milk has problems with cow's milk. Milk is milk, right! Well no, there is a slight variation: mother's milk contains a much higher content of EFA than cow's milk. Fortunately formula milk today contains a higher ratio of EFA which can help in the prevention of eczema and other skin problems in your baby. But once your child is older he may react to cow's, goat's and sheep's milk and other dairy products when he is off formula. With constant afflictions, repeat doses of antibiotics do little to remove the symptoms permanently because the cause is food and not an infection. Going dairy-free totally first for 3 whole weeks may establish and confirm the cause of the ordeal instead of resorting to other more severe measures. Alternatives to dairy include soya (if your child is not sensitive to soy) and rice milk.

Wheat (gluten) Intolerance

Wheat flour is virtually found in every bread, cereal, cake, pasta and biscuit today. Gluten is the protein part of four main grains namely wheat, barley, oats and rye. (Gluten content in oats is fairly low in comparison to the other three grains). What gluten does is create a glue-like consistency in the digestive tract which then interferes with your child's nutrient absorption. Symptoms of gluten intolerance include skin problems, blocked nose or ears, fatigue or extreme drowsiness after meals. A severe form of gluten sensitivity is also known as celiac disease. Symptoms of celiac include constant diarrhea, stomach pains, and the inability to gain weight. For children with celiac their diets become extremely restrictive. Fortunately this disease is rare. As with dairy, removing all grains from your child's diet will give an indication if this particular food group is the cause of your child's discomforts. Grains that do not contain gluten are rice, corn, millet and quinoa.

Keep a food diary and make a record for 2-3 weeks to evaluate if certain foods are coinciding with the reactions.

Citrus Fruits

Fresh oranges and strawberries are fruits to avoid as they trigger rashes and eczema in children with this sensitivity. Also avoid fruit yogurts and squashes containing these fruits. Go for 'safe' fruits such as apples, bananas, pears, cantaloupes, melons, plums, apricots and dried fruits. Watch your child closely when you give them citrus fruits for their reactions.

Nightshade Vegetable Intolerance

This includes tomatoes, white potatoes, eggplant and peppers. This group of vegetables is hard to digest and should not be introduced to your baby until she is a year old. (Yam and sweet potatoes belong to another group so are safe foods for babies.) Nightshade vegetables can cause small holes to appear in baby's immature intestinal lining, and can deplete baby's minerals and even cause diarrhea. Introduce only small quantities after your baby crosses her 12th month. Tomatoes can be particularly allergenic in babies and small children. Tomato ketchup, canned tomatoes and tomato soup may also trigger reactions. Early consumption of tomatoes causes eczema and hyperactivity in children.

Look at your child's face for Clues

There are facial symptoms to food allergy or intolerance, the most common is the dark shadows under the eyes. Often this symptom is indicative of a problem with wheat. Get your child assessed to rule out celiac disease. Clues to look out for include:

• Dark shadows under the eyes known as allergic shiners.

• Creases in her lower lids

• A running nose irrespective of her having a cold or not

• Red ears

Food intolerances are escalating in recent times due to the massive increase in the use of additives, colorings that are now added to foods to prolong shelf life or simply appear more appealing to a child's eye.

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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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