Food allergies in babies: Know how to detect and manage them
Up to 6 months of age, your baby can survive and thrive only on your breast milk. But once you start introducing complementary foods, it is natural to worry about allergies. Being aware about the different food allergies is the only way to be on your guard. So, this article discusses how such an allergy can occur, what symptoms you should watch out for, and the ways in which you can manage the condition. Remember that prevention and an early diagnosis is always the wisest way to keep your little one safe.
Understanding food allergies in babies
Food allergies in babies are pretty common and hence it makes sense to be prepared for any emergency. An allergic reaction is a response of the body’s immune system, unlike intolerances, which are temporary and easier to tackle. It is a way in which our body reacts to certain substances that it treats as “harmful” right from birth. These allergic responses can be triggered by consuming, inhaling, or even touching the allergens.
Baby food allergy symptoms can range from itching and rashes to vomiting, stomach aches, troubled breathing, and even asthma. Prolonged and untreated reactions can even prove to be fatal. While adults might be better equipped at waging a war against many allergens, babies have weaker immune systems and can show more severe reactions. Since an allergy is the body’s immune response, it can never be cured. However, its symptoms can be managed and substance contact can be prevented.
If we were to map the journey of an allergy attack, this is what it will typically look like:
Step 1: A baby comes in contact with an allergen.
Step 2: His or her body’s immune system recognizes the allergen as something destructive. Now, its priority is to keep the substance away.
Step 3: Your baby’s immune system decides to produce histamines. These are a type of protein that must circulate in the blood to signal the brain. It is an effort to cause a symptom that will keep the allergen at bay.
Step 4: Histamines trigger a symptom as a response to the allergen. And any organ system can be the target of that response.
Top food allergens have been listed here and they mainly include protein-rich foods such as eggs, milk, nuts, wheat, soy, and fish.
But in general, any food ingredient can prove to be an allergen for someone. The trigger can strike within a few minutes or occur even after a few hours of consumption. Sometimes, one of these allergens can be a part of the mother’s diet while she is breastfeeding. The allergens can get transmitted through the breast milk and cause triggers in the baby’s body. So, close observation is required in tracking the symptoms and matching them with what the lactating mother just ate. It does not call for any restrictions in the mother’s diet, unless allergic reactions are observed in the infant.
How to test food allergies in babies?
Since food allergies can lead to serious medical consequences, you should get your child immediately tested if you notice any suspicious symptom.
- It is advised to visit an allergist who can accurately recognize allergens and possible responses.
- Most often, for very small children, a skin test is carried out. The skin is exposed to various liquids containing ingredients that are suspected as allergens. The skin is pricked and symptoms (if any) are studied.
- Blood tests are also an option for specific foods. Post-exposure, the blood sample is tested for IgE (Immunoglobulin E), which is indicative of histamine production and an allergic reaction.
- If any of these tests do not show any positive result, a food challenge test is performed. This is an interesting test where suspected ingredients are hidden in various dishes. Only small quantities are used for testing and allergic responses are observed. This needs to be done under medical supervision, so that severe symptoms can be tackled.
So, to prevent and manage food allergies in babies, avoiding contact with the allergen is the best move. Here are some tips that can help:
- Read food labels when you pick up products from a grocery store. If you are shopping for these online, double-check what you add to your cart.
- Store allergy-causing foods separately. Do not let them come in contact with other items in your refrigerator or storage areas, to prevent triggers.
- Prepare foods that cause allergy by using a separate set of utensils.
- Some allergens cause an issue only when consumed. However, if an allergen irritates your baby even if it is touched or inhaled, feed him or her separately.
- Inform your child’s teachers, caregivers, and chefs at restaurants about your baby’s food allergy. They must be made aware of the allergens, the precautions to take and the symptoms to expect. Your baby’s allergist may even suggest medications to manage the symptoms.
- Certain schools also have allergy groups or special seating arrangements to comfort your child while eating, on a regular basis. If your baby has started going to school, find out about this.
All in all, a few precautions, allergy medications, and making your child aware of his triggers and symptoms can make it easy to handle food allergies.