Spotting food allergies in babies

There are seemingly endless anxieties for you to worry about as the parent to a young child, and food allergies are among them. Of course, your baby can’t tell you when they’re feeling poorly, so it’s even more important to be extra vigilant when they show signs of illness.

Food allergies are especially common in young children, more so than among adults; this is because their immune systems are still fragile and developing. Essentially, a food allergy occurs where the immune system wrongly interprets certain proteins as being harmful and produces antibodies against them. This can result in a wide range of allergic symptoms.

It’s also important to be aware of the difference between a food intolerance and a food allergy: where the former is unthreatening, the latter can pose a serious health risk. Children can grow out of both food intolerances and allergies over time, although peanut allergies are usually a lifelong problem.

Here, we’ll discuss the causes of food allergies in young children and how to know what you’re looking for in case they affect your baby.

Common food allergies in babies

So, what causes food allergies in babies? According to the NHS, there are several foods which could set off allergic reactions in babies. These are:

  • Cows’ milk
  • Foods containing gluten (e.g. barley, wheat, rye)
  • Eggs
  • Soya
  • Seeds
  • Fish and shellfish
  • Nuts and peanuts

When you begin to introduce your baby to solids, from the age of around six months, you need to ensure that you do so with great care – only feed your child small amounts, so that you can quickly detect the signs of any allergic reaction.

If your child takes to foods without any initial adverse consequences, you can then introduce them into their regular diet. Not all allergies become apparent after the first introduction of a certain food, however, so bear this in mind. Make sure you introduce new foods to your baby one at a time, to make it easier to isolate the cause of any reactions where these occur.

How to spot an allergic reaction in your child

Spotting the signs of a food allergy is often difficult in young children; they don’t always manifest themselves in immediately obvious ways. This is why it’s so crucial to be vigilant when introducing your child to new foods for any signs that their body is reacting against them.

Allergies can show up in the form of various symptoms, including:

  • Itchy skin or rash
  • Itchy throat and tongue
  • Swollen lips and throat
  • Sore, red and itchy eyes
  • Runny or blocked nose
  • Wheezing or shortness of breath
  • A cough
  • Diarrhoea or vomiting

There are three general categories of an allergic reaction: immediate reaction, delayed reaction or anaphylaxis. The latter is the most extreme kind of reaction – it can be set off not just by consuming a trigger food, but potentially even touching it – and may pose in the most severe cases a potential threat to life. You should seek immediate medical attention for your child in the event of a suspected anaphylactic reaction.

Not all immediate reactions are as severe as anaphylaxis, however. Immediate reactions develop quickly, usually within about half an hour of consuming the food responsible. Delayed-response reactions, by contrast, may take hours or perhaps even days to appear, and can take the form of pre-existing conditions such as eczema or constipation.

If you suspect your child suffers from an allergy, make sure you record the details: the symptoms, when they started, how frequent they are, their duration, and so on. Your GP will likely ask you for this information when you come to discuss it with them. Even relatively minor allergies can adversely affect a child’s quality of life, and the sooner you seek professional medical help, the more effectively you’ll be able to help them manage.

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