Kids and Food Allergies

Allergies to certain foods are becoming more common throughout the world and are most apparent during the early years of life.  Children are at a greater risk of having major reactions to foods, particularly if another family member has an allergic disease, so it is important to be able to recognise food allergies and have them diagnosed by a medical professional.  While most children grow out of their food allergy before adolescence, it still pays to stay vigil as some allergies can be lifelong.

Food allergies are characterised by an immune response to a certain food substance.  The body reacts as if the substance is toxic and histamines are released to protect the body.  The most common foods that cause allergic reactions are cow’s milk, eggs, soy products, peanuts and tree nuts, wheat, fish and shellfish.  You may have read on various packaged food products that it may contain traces of egg, wheat, nuts or sesame seeds, or other food substances.  Since 2002, the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code was amended so that all food labels clearly state whether they contain certain food substances in order to protect food allergy suffers from potentially fatal consequences.

Symptoms of food allergies can occur almost immediately after eating the allergen and can include itching and swelling around the mouth, nose or eyes, a rash or hives, cramps, nausea and vomiting, or breathing difficulties, asthma and swelling in the throat.  Anaphylaxis is a very serious allergic reaction that causes life-threatening symptoms such as swelling of the tongue and throat which can cause difficulty in breathing and speaking, and may lead to loss of consciousness.  The best way to prevent injury or death is to administer an injection of adrenalin to the sufferer.  The main food allergens that cause anaphylaxis are peanuts and other nuts, but insect stings and some medications can also cause it too.

If you are unsure of the cause of your child’s allergic reactions, there are a variety of things that you can do to pinpoint the allergen.  If the reactions are mild, a food and symptoms diary can be helpful, as well as an elimination diet that removes all suspect foods for two weeks before reintroducing them individually over time.  For more serious cases, such as those who suffer from anaphylaxis, medical supervision is required and examinations such as a skin prick test and blood analysis can be performed.

The area of allergy prevention in children has been researched and studies have shown that there are steps you can take to help reduce the risk of allergies in your children.

  • During pregnancy, don’t restrict your diet to avoid potential allergens.  There is no conclusive evidence to support the idea that avoiding allergens in pregnancy will help prevent allergies in your child. It is more important to eat a well-balanced diet so that you and the baby receive enough important nutrients during this important phase.
  • The Australian Government recognises that breastfeeding babies has significant health benefits and recommends exclusively breastfeeding the infant until it is at least six months old. Studies have found that breastfeeding during the first four to six months protects the child against allergy development, but if it is known that the baby is allergic to a particular food, the mother should avoid eating this food while breastfeeding.

Partially hydrolysed infant formula is a milk formula that contains milk proteins that have been broken down into smaller proteins.   For mothers who can’t breastfeed or if their baby is weaned before six months of age, using partially hydrolysed milk formula has been found to help prevent the development of allergies.  However, if the child has been diagnosed with a milk allergy, opt for soy protein formula or extensively hydrolyzed formula, provided that this has been recommended by your doctor.