Friday, November 1, 2013

Food Allergies in Babies and Toddlers

Allergies are very common and can cause serious reactions. The digestive and immune systems of a baby need to be sufficiently developed before solid foods are introduced. Introducing solid foods too early or introducing foods which are likely to cause problems too soon will stress the baby's immature systems. When introducing solid foods you need to be aware of the possibility of allergic reactions. This article presents the symptoms of allergic reactions and how to minimise these in babies.In recent years there has been an increasing awareness of the number of diseases and complaints that can be caused, or contributed to, by the presence of allergies. Allergies are very common. Conservative estimates are that twenty percent of the population is allergic to something. However when we consider minor allergies such as hay fever, minor eczema and food intolerances, the true incidences of allergies and or intolerances may well be a lot higher. It is thought that the changes in the Western diet over the last 100-200 years - in particular the refining of food, the use of food additives and the increased consumption of animal produce and the presence of environmental pollution, have contributed substantially to the prevalence of all forms of allergic disease.What is an allergy?The word means an 'altered reaction' and an allergic individual usually suffers from physical symptoms (such as, headaches and migraines, vomiting, rashes, asthma) when he or she comes in contact with substances to which they are sensitive. The substance which provokes the reaction is called an allergen and can be house dust, dog or cat fur, a food/s, a chemical/s or a bacterium - to name just a few. In this article we are looking at food allergies.When solid foods are introduced, a baby may have an 'allergic reaction' to wheat for example, and develop diarrhoea, abdominal colic, crankiness, a runny nose, or even a mild ear infection, asthma or eczema. The cause of these symptoms is often not recognised and may even be treated as a transient infection if the problem is a runny nose or ear pain. The offending food will be continued to be offered and the infant usually recovers from the acute symptoms, though there might be persistent, relatively minor symptoms. At some later stage (days, months, years later) either following periods of infection or stress or just due to a gradual failure to remain healthy, symptoms develop.If the food is withdrawn, the symptoms usually clear within three to five days, though sometimes, especially in children this can take as long as three weeks. There may also be marked withdrawal symptoms which eventually clear.When introducing new food to babies and toddlers you need to be aware of the symptoms of allergies. This is particularly the case when parents or other members of the family have food allergies.What does a food allergy look like in a baby or toddler?The symptoms associated with food allergies are legion and can mimic a whole range of different clinical conditions. It depends on the baby or toddler. Some of the symptoms babies and toddlers develop include:
an itchy mouth and throat,
rashes, eczema and hives,
cramping and colic,
nausea and vomiting,
diarrhea or constipation,
wheezing, sneezing, runny nose,
unusual crying,
shortness of breath,
hyperactivity, and
sleep disturbances.
In extreme cases, a child may develop a life-threatening condition called anaphylactic shock. Severe symptoms or reactions to any allergen require immediate medical attention.What are the common causes of food allergies?Foods that are the most likely to cause an allergy include:
wheat, rye, oats, barley, maize (corn),
cow's milk and other dairy products,
hen eggs, and chicken meat,
cane and beet sugar,
fish and shellfish,
colourings and preservatives,
chocolate, and
citrus fruit.
What can you do?Here are two things you can do as a parent to reduce your baby's susceptibility to food allergies and reduce the severity of food allergies:
Wait until your baby is at least 6 months old to introduce solids.
Apply the 4-day wait rule when introducing new foods to your baby.
Waiting until your baby is 6 months oldBabies are not born with adult digestive systems and they cannot handle foods and will not digest them properly until their digestive systems have matured, at 4 to 6 months of age. Prior to that, your baby should only have breast milk or formula. Waiting until your baby is 6 months old to feed them solids will give them the best chance of actually being able to digest the food and a smooth digestion reduces risk of allergies.The 4-day wait ruleWhen you begin to feed your baby solids, you need to be sure that the food isn't causing a reaction. Sometimes, it can take three or four days for a reaction to show up.Introduce one food at a time and then wait for four days before introducing another food.It is worthwhile keeping a food diary, noting which foods are introduced and when. This information may be very valuable later if your baby develops some kind of reaction which could be attributed to an infection or upset, or wind or whatever, though it may in fact be a food reaction. If you also note when particular problems start, you can quite often identify the offending food, exclude it from the baby's diet, and have a healthy, happy baby.If there is a family history of food intolerance then it is recommended that you avoid the introduction of cow's milk or wheat until the baby is twelve months or even older. (If you introduce these foods at all - but that is another issue.)Allergies are very common and can cause serious reactions. The digestive and immune systems of a baby need to be sufficiently developed before solid foods are introduced. Introducing solid foods too early or introducing foods which are likely to cause problems too soon will stress the baby's immature systems. When introducing solid foods you need to aware of the possibility of allergic reactions and should you be concerned about a reaction stop giving this food and allow the baby more time to mature. While the above details are intended to be generally helpful and educational they should not be construed as a replacement for individual advice from a health professional. You should seek professional assistance if your child's allergy is sudden, extreme, long-lasting or fails to improve.ReferencesBland, J. 1996, Contemporary Nutrition. J & B Associates.Davies, S. and A. Stewart, 1997, Nutritional Medicine. Pan.Elliot, N. 2004, Green Peace. Practical Parenting.Holden, S., Hudson, K., Tilman, J. & D. Wolf, 2003, The Ultimate Guide to Health from Nature. Asrolog Publication.Pressman, A. and S. Buff, 2000, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Vitamins and Minerals. (2nd Ed.) Alpha Books.Soothill, R. 1996, The Choice Guide to Vitamins and Minerals. A Choice Book Publication.Sullivan, K. 2002, Vitamins and Minerals: A Practical Approach to a Health Diet and Safe Supplementation. Harper Collins.