Here are some answers to key questions you may have on the subject.
What is a food allergy?
Food allergies are now well-understood: the body comes into contact with a substance it does not recognise (or no longer recognises as safe) and activates its defence system (your immune system) in order to eliminate the intruder. While there are many different symptoms, you should consult with a healthcare professional such as a dietitian or paediatric allergist for guidance on how to manage it.
What are the most common allergenic foods?
In early childhood, the most common foods which are likely to trigger an allergenic reaction are:
- cow’s milk
- tree nuts
- fish, and
What are the symptoms of an allergic reaction?
Depending on the food responsible, symptoms to look out for can include vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach pains, hives, eczema, asthma and recurrent ear, nose, and throat infections. Symptoms such as swelling of the lips and tongue require immediate medical attention. If your baby experiences any of the other signs of allergy or intolerance to a food, you should speak with a healthcare professional as soon as possible.
Does breastfeeding help to protect against food allergies?
The evidence for protecting against allergies by breastfeeding is inconsistent however breastfeeding remains extremely important. Breastfeeding is recommended exclusively until around 6 months of age and should be continued whilst solid foods are introduced, and beyond. When looking at the immune system, breastfeeding supports the development of a healthy gut microbiota, where approximately 80% of our immune cells live.
Who can diagnose an allergy?
In the first instance, your GP or paediatrician may send you for a blood test or perform a skin prick test. It is then recommended that you consult an allergist. You can even find specialised infant allergists.
There is a history of allergies in my family. Is this a factor?
A parent or sibling may have allergies without the new baby inheriting the same allergy. That said, a higher level of food allergies has been observed in children with a family history of allergy and intolerances. If you have a family history of allergies you should let your healthcare professional know as this may help them advise you on ways to reduce the risk of allergies occurring in your baby.
Can food allergies be cured?
No medical cure currently exists for food allergies. However, it is possible that your baby will outgrow their allergy. Your doctor may conduct food challenges down the track, where small amounts of the allergic food are given to them under strict medical supervision, to test tolerance and whether they have grown out of it.
What is the difference between a food allergy and intolerance?
It is very common to be confused between a food allergy and food intolerance as many symptoms can be similar. Food intolerance doesn’t involve the immune system and is often a lot more difficult to diagnose. Food allergy on the other hand involves an immune response and can be confirmed through allergy testing. Food allergy can also result in more serious reactions than an intolerance, such as anaphylaxis. If your child has any reaction to food, it’s important to talk to your doctor.