Food allergies and sensitivities can be the underlying causes of many childhood illnesses and symptoms without parents even being aware. However, there are certain steps that can be taken to minimize, and in some cases even prevent, the onset of an allergic response.

What is an allergy?

An allergic response occurs when the body, for various reasons, identifies an otherwise harmless food as a dangerous invader. When this happens, the body creates an outpouring of antibodies to eliminate the invader. Allergic reactions fall into two categories: immediate and delayed reactions.

Immediate reactions can occur within minutes of eating the questionable food and can involve symptoms such as wheezing, skin rashes and excess mucous production. In rare situations, immediate reactions can be life-threatening due to the constriction of airways. This type of allergic response is called anaphylactic. An example of an anaphylactic allergic response is when a child’s throat begins to close following consumption of a peanut. Parents of children who suffer from anaphylactic reactions should always carry an EpiPen (a shot of epinephrine injected into the skin) in case of emergency situations. Only 3% of all children have anaphylactic reactions.

The second type of reaction is known as a delayed response. Most food sensitivities and intolerances fall into this category. Due to the delayed appearance of symptoms (anywhere from one hour to several days), these food allergies are more difficult to detect. For example, a child who is allergic to wheat may react one or two days later with dry skin or constipation. When food sensitivities go undetected, it is not uncommon for other ailments to begin “popping up” elsewhere in the body.

Who is at risk?

The odds of your baby developing an allergic response to specific foods are higher if:

  • A family member suffers from allergies (sibling or parent);
  • The infant has other allergic type symptoms or disorders such as asthma or eczema;
  • Parents or siblings have asthma or eczema;
  • The infant is having a sensitivity to formula.

Preventative steps

Research has identified a variety of steps that can be taken to delay the onset of, and even prevent, allergic responses from occurring in your little one. They are:

  • Breast feed for a minimum of 6 months. If you do supplement with formula after 6 months, continue to breast feed whenever you can;
  • Do not introduce cow’s milk products until the child is older than 12 months;
  • If supplementing with formula, ensure that it is hypoallergenic and completely hydrolyzed (meaning the proteins have been broken down);
  • Delay the introduction of solid foods until the infant is 6 months or older;
  • Do not introduce eggs until the child is 2 years of age;
  • Do not introduce peanuts or shellfish until the child is 3 years of age;
  • Eat organic fruits and vegetables for their minerals, vitamins and phytochemicals (plant nutrients that offer protection against allergies and associated symptoms).

If you have any questions or concerns regarding your child’s diet, talk to your pediatrician or nutritionist.

Dr. Joey Shulman

Reprinted with permission from Sweetpea Baby Food