How to spot a food allergy

Here's how to recognise if your child has a food allergy.

Siblings living in the same household often don’t share the same kinds of allergies, a new study has found.

“More than half of the children in the study had a sensitivity to a food product, but they weren’t truly allergic. Kids who have a food sensitivity shouldn’t be labelled as having a food allergy,” said lead author of the study and member of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, Dr Ruchi Gupta.

About 30 to 40% of children will develop some form of allergy during their childhood years, whether it’s a skin or nasal allergy, food allergy or asthma. According to allergy specialist Dr Adrian Morris from the Allergy Clinic, who consults in Cape Town and Johannesburg, genetics is one of the major factors that contribute to childhood allergies. “If both you and your partner have hypersensitivities, you can be 80% sure that you’ll have an allergy-prone child.”

What causes food allergies?

  • Food allergies occur when your immune system becomes confused – instead of ignoring harmless food proteins, it triggers a reaction that leads to the release of a chemical called histamine. It’s this histamine that causes classic allergy symptoms such as hives or swelling. If the reaction becomes severe, the allergy will then be called anaphylaxis, which could be life- threatening.
  • Most serious food allergies start in infancy and early childhood. They’re caused by a relatively small number of different foods. Milk and egg allergies are the most common, although these allergies tend to disappear during childhood.

When do babies develop allergies?

  • If your baby is healthy, there’s no evidence to suggest that weaning her later than four to six months, or delaying the introduction of potentially allergic foods, will affect the likelihood of her developing allergies.
  • In fact, feeding your baby a wide variety of foods between six and nine months, including the common food allergens such as eggs and fish, will introduce your baby to a wide repertoire of foods without increasing the chances of a food allergy developing.
  • However, if there’s a history of food allergies in the family, or if your baby suffers from eczema, you’ll need to be more cautious when you introduce her to new foods.

How to spot a food allergy

  • Some food allergies are quite easy to spot – as soon as the food is eaten (often for the first or second time) an itchy rash develops, usually around the mouth.
  • There may also be swelling of the face, a runny nose, itchiness, and perhaps even vomiting.
  • In severe reactions, there may be difficulty breathing. If this occurs, an ambulance should be called immediately. Fortunately, severe reactions are very rare in young children and tend to be more of a problem amongst teenagers.
  • Sometimes, food allergies can be more subtle and difficult to detect, especially if they’re delayed allergies. These allergies tend to be more of a problem in infancy, and it’s often difficult to pinpoint the particular food causing the symptoms. Delayed allergies in infants can cause chronic symptoms such as eczema, reflux or colic. The most common food allergies in children are cow’s milk, shellfish, mustard seed, egg, peanut, soy, fish, wheat and tree nuts.


Allergy tip
Sometimes, redness occurs after your baby
has eaten berries. This only happens with babies who have eczema, and it’s because of the effect of the acid in the fruit, not an allergy, so let your baby eat them.

Does your little one have a food allergy? Try these easy recipes, suitable for babies with food allergies.

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