As a parent, it can be scary to introduce new foods to your infant. New research guidelines will give you peace of mind about food allergies in kids.
Children can have different reactions to foods, but this doesn’t mean that these reactions are all due to an allergy. There’s a difference between sensitization and an allergy (IgE). To have a food allergy, your child has to be showing consistent symptoms. Here’s a breakdown of the key things to understand about food allergies in kids and a few things to keep in mind to reduce your child’s risk of forming food allergies.
What are food allergens?
A food allergy is when the body has an unusual reaction to a protein in a food that is otherwise harmless. The eight most common allergens are milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soy. These foods are typically part of a healthy balanced diet and should only be excluded if your child has a known food allergy or a food sensitivity. Excluding foods unnecessarily can limit essential nutrients in your child’s diet. That’s why it’s helpful to work with an allergist and a registered dietitian if you suspect an allergy.
What are the symptoms of food allergies in kids?
Symptoms can involve any of the body organs. The most common reactions occur around the mouth and throat with itching and swelling. Diarrhea is also common. Other organ systems that can be involved are the lungs, heart, skin, and more. Your child can experience mild symptoms such as an itchy or runny nose and hives that range from a local area to the entire body.
When a child goes into anaphylaxis from a severe allergic response, an epinephrine injection (epi-pen) is the only way to treat it. There have been recent studies looking at oral immunotherapy to help blunt the body’s response to allergies. A health professional fully supervises these, and the results are promising. Read more about this in What if Peanuts Could Cure Peanut Allergies?
Does the early introduction of common food allergens lower the occurrence of food allergies?
Since 2015 there has been a consensus that early introduction to these main allergens may prevent the development of food allergies. (1)
There are steps you can take to help your kids reduce their risk of food allergies! Learn more by reading How to Prevent Peanut Allergy in Kids. Diversity in your child’s diet improves exposure to different types of proteins which has proven to be helpful.
Healthy Microbiome and Food Allergy Risk
The term microbiome refers to the bacteria living in your intestines. There are a lot of healthy bacteria that play a role in the immune response and inflammation. You have likely been hearing more about the microbiome and how it impacts health. New research has found that there may be a connection between microbial diversity – the different types and amounts of bacteria in your infant or child’s body – and the risk of food allergies. Focusing on diet diversity can lead to even better gut diversity! Protein and fiber intake can increase microdiversity as well. Decreased gut diversity can lead to an increase in food allergy, though more research is needed. (2)
When you’re weaning from breastfeeding, focus on lean proteins, and sufficient fats. Specific minerals like iron can impact the microbiome as well, so making sure you’re feeding your child foods or formula with the right amount of nutrients, at the right time, is key. Including different types of plant-based foods also helps with the diversity of healthy bacteria in your gut.
It’s well known that natural birth is preferred over a cesarean section for a child to receive the good bacteria from the vaginal wall. Immune-regulating substances from breastmilk may provide an additional positive effect on allergy outcomes. Keep in mind that at this point, there’s no need to avoid allergens during pregnancy or breastfeeding since there’s no evidence to show this increases your child’s risk of forming an allergy.
What should you do next?
Now that you have a better understanding of a few things you can do to try to minimize your child’s risk of food allergy, here are a few steps you can take:
- If you believe your child has a food allergy or you have a strong family history of food allergies, find a board-certified allergist for more guidance.
- Monitor your child’s food intake and take detail records of any symptoms to discuss with the doctor.
- Ask the allergist or doctor which type of allergy testing they are doing – oral food challenges done by your doctor are the most accurate ways to diagnose, but most allergists conduct skin prick testing. This can lead to a high rate of false positives. However, if the results are negative, it can rule out the allergy. Some allergists prefer to conduct a skin prick test before conducting oral food challenges. Although oral food challenges are best, they are not always practical at physician’s offices. If there is a strong history of food allergies in your family, the first introduction to an allergen should be conducted in the doctor’s office.
- Breastfeed if possible and start to introduce common allergens early (around 6 months).
- Make your baby’s diet as diverse as possible!
- Be confident about feeding your baby!
Next, take a look at How to Help Prevent Peanut Allergy in Kids to understand how to prevent peanut allergy!