Trying to figure out if your bub suffers from a food allergy can be a daunting task, especially when starting solids. Symptoms can be hard to spot and the severity of the allergy or intolerance is not always easy to assess.
This quick guide to food allergies and sensitive tummies from paediatric nutritionist Laura Ryan tackles some frequently asked questions from concerned parents.
What are food allergies?
A food allergy occurs when the body's immune system reacts to a harmless food causing an adverse reaction. In Australia, food allergies are thought to affect at least 10% of children up to 1 year of age, with the most common food allergens being cow’s milk, egg, peanut, tree nut, wheat, soy, sesame, fish and shellfish.
Whilst the majority of food allergies are caused by these nine foods, any food has the potential to cause an allergic reaction.
Food allergies are complex and sometimes difficult to diagnose. As a parent, you may feel concerned, however there are some simple things to do if you suspect your child may be developing a food allergy.
How will I know if my child has a food allergy?
Your baby may display symptoms of a food allergy within the first few weeks of life (for example, reflux, vomiting, diarrhoea, unsettled and/or persistent eczema). Unfortunately, these can be difficult to diagnose and will sometimes be passed off as 'typical newborn behaviour'.
The reaction may be more obvious when a baby tries a new formula or when they start eating solids for the first time.
What are the symptoms I should look out for?
Signs of mild or moderate allergic reactions:
- Swelling of lips, face, eyes
- Hives or welts
- Tingling mouth
- Abdominal pain, vomiting
- Eczema or rashes
- Difficult/noisy breathing
- Swelling of tongue
- Swelling/tightness in throat
- Difficulty talking and/or hoarse voice
- Wheeze or persistent cough
- Persistent dizziness or collapse
- Pale and floppy (young children)
Other adverse food reactions include food intolerance such as carbohydrate malabsorption (e.g. lactose or fructose intolerance) or a chemical reaction to a food or drink.
These symptoms may present similarly to a mild or moderate food allergy however food intolerance does not cause severe allergic reactions. As a parent this can be extremely confusing to diagnose and manage.
What can you do if you suspect your child has a food allergy?
It's important to not try and diagnose this yourself. If your child is displaying an immediate and severe reaction, phone 000 and seek immediate medical treatment.
If you have noticed your child having a mild or moderate reaction to a food, remove it from their diet and seek advice from your GP, Paediatrician or Paediatric Dietitian.
They’ll advise you on the removal of the suspected food allergen from your child's diet and appropriate food substitutes.
Keep in mind that goat milk may be a good alternative for toddlers with sensitive tummies.
What about introducing solids?
The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology & Allergy (ASCIA) has recently released updated guidelines which recommend parents should introduce baby's first foods between 4-6 months and when developmentally ready.
This includes all potentially allergenic foods including peanuts, eggs, fish, etc. All new foods should be introduced to your baby one at a time over a period of 2-3 days to ensure safe introduction into your baby's diet. If your child has already been diagnosed with a food allergy, then it's important to be guided by your treating doctor or dietitian for further advice around introduction of solids.
For further information:
ASCIA website www.allergy.org.au
About the author - Laura Ryan
Laura is a paediatric dietitian and founder of Early Nutrition, a professional Nutrition and Dietetic Clinic servicing the southern region of Adelaide with a focus on children and families.
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