Preventing Food Allergies in Children
Health Parenting

Preventing Food Allergies in Children

March 30, 2019

1. What Are Allergies?

An allergy is the reaction of the body to foreign substances. The body usually reacts when its immune system accidentally mistakes these substances as harmful. Once the immune system develops an allergy towards a specific substance, a person will have an allergic reaction each time they are exposed to the allergen (a substance that triggers the immune system to react). Allergic reactions are common in children, and the allergen is usually related to food.

Foods such as eggs, milk, peanuts, and fish commonly cause allergic reactions to children. These types of foods contain proteins that when ingested caused allergic reactions to a child’s body. Some allergies can gradually disappear as a child continues to grow. Allergic reactions can also be caused by environmental factors, soaps, insect bites, mould and animals such as pets. 

2. Can Allergies Be Prevented?

Food allergies can be prevented by introducing foods that are likely to cause allergic reactions to the body during the early stages of a child’s life. This lowers the likelihood of the child’s body forming an allergic reaction towards the food.

Administer small quantities of the allergen, like eggs or peanuts, to babies, to test their response and build immunity.
Administer small quantities of the allergen, like eggs or peanuts, to babies, to test their response and build immunity.
Photo by Jeff Hendricks on Unsplash

Avoidance of substances that one is allergic to can also help prevent allergies. Where one experiences allergies after consuming certain types of foods, it is advisable for him or her to keep off from eating such foods for him or her to prevent the occurrence of allergic reactions. 

3. How Can I Prevent My Child from Having Allergies?

The introduction of foods at an early stage in life is very critical in the management of allergies. Foods that commonly cause allergies such as egg can be introduced into a baby’s diet for the body to familiarize itself with such proteins. This greatly reduces the risk of a baby developing an allergic reaction to such foods in the future.

Infants who are born into families that have members with allergies are more likely to get allergies. Allergic foods that cannot be consumed by other family members should be highly observed since they can cause allergic reactions to an infant.

Foods such as eggs and peanuts should be administered in very small quantities to babies. Large pieces may cause severe allergic reactions. Parents should administer small pieces for the body to be able to cope with them and not develop allergic reactions. Small pieces are likely not to cause too much harm and cause alarm to the body’s immune system. This means that the body will not respond to these small quantities as it would have for larger ones.

Breastfeeding a baby can also help in the prevention of allergies. It is unlikely for breast milk to trigger any allergic reactions to a baby. Breast milk boosts an infant’s immune system and it can greatly help in the prevention of asthma.

Breastfeeding should be done until a baby is past 2 years. The least number of months that a mother should breastfeed an infant is around 6 months. Where breastfeeding is not possible, a cow’s or goat’s milk can be used although there is no evidence that these kinds of milk help to manage allergic reactions.

Foods that are highly likely to cause allergies should not be excluded from the diet of a pregnant woman. Upon delivery, these types of foods also need to be taken by the breastfeeding mother. Exclusion of these foods from the diet is not advisable.

Other common allergies in children

Eczema may lead to the development of an allergic reaction. It is the inflammation of a child’s skin that causes itchiness and rashes. Medical attention is required to get rid of eczema. It significantly increases the chances of a child’s getting allergic reactions.  

Smoking during pregnancy is not advisable. Smoking in the presence of an infant can also lead to the development of an allergic reaction. Smoke that is inhaled into the lungs of an infant may end up affecting his or her body’s response to it. Asthma and other fatal respiratory conditions can be developed through the exposure of infants to tobacco smoke.     

Fine hair shed by dogs and cats are a common cause of allergies. Minor, repeat exposure can improve resistance.
Fine hair shed by dogs and cats are a common cause of allergies. Minor, repeat exposure can improve resistance.
Photo by Picsea on Unsplash

Pets and animals can cause allergic reactions to infants. Although most infants do not have allergic reactions to pets, some may end up developing asthma due to such exposure. It has been discovered that children who grow up within farms are less likely to develop allergic reactions to pets as compared to those who are raised within urban setups.

Early exposure to pets such as cats and dogs may help in the prevention of allergies that children may develop. Pets can be introduced to the life of an infant for these allergies to be prevented from occurring in the future. However, if any allergic reactions occur during this tender age, pets should be kept away to avoid the development of asthma.

Cheryl on Facebook asked:

Q: My 11-month-old son has just spent a few days in the hospital with a bad chest caused by allergies. The tests showed that, among others, he is allergic to dogs. Our dogs are very much part of the family. Does anyone have experience with managing dog allergies in your home? We have a plan of action but since this is new territory for me, I would really appreciate input from those who have been there… (We don’t have carpets, dogs are short haired (so shaving not a solution) and I have air purifiers.)

Our response:

A: I have been largely helped by cortisone injections and a daily nasal spray. Both help counter the effects of the allergic reaction. My partner takes allergy tablets and nasal spray. Both options are available at the local GP.
PS: if you have a double coated breed (which I am assuming you probably do) then the chances are you need the right tool (brush). Brushing the doggies regularly reduces shed, as well as helps with dander. Regular (not too often though) baths also help.

Asthma can also be developed through the exposure of a child to airborne substances. Dust mites should be controlled to ensure that allergic reactions do not occur. Carpets should be cleaned regularly to control dust mites. If need be, they can be removed from an infant’s room.

Want to know how to create the perfect home for babies? Read our guide.

4. When Can You Introduce Allergenic Foods?

Allergenic foods should be introduced at around 6 months. Although the growth of infants is not the same, this is when most infants have developed and are ready to handle solid food. This development involves an infant’s ability to be able to sit on his or her own. It also includes the ability of an infant to stretch hands to reach out for objects and food. It is a clear sign that the infant has developed and is ready for solid food.

The diet of the infant at this stage needs to be the same as what the whole family is eating. One can then start feeding the baby with foods that are likely to cause allergies. Peanuts can be made into smooth butter that can then be fed to an infant. If the food causes no reactions, it can be assumed that the infant’s body has tolerated it and can be added into the diet.

Foods that are likely to cause allergies should not be given all at once to an infant. One needs to separate them from the diet for it to be easier to tell which food is causing an allergic reaction. Peanuts and eggs can be the first to start on the diet. The risk of allergic reactions on these two is usually very high. Fish can also be introduced to the diet of an infant during this stage.    

5. What Should I Do If My Child Has an Allergic Reaction?

In the case of an allergic reaction, it is very important for its triggers to be put far away. For instance, if an allergic reaction has happened due to interaction with a pet; they should be immediately separated. If he or she is exposed to smoke, enough fresh air should be provided for him or her to inhale. Inhalers can be used to contain asthma attacks.

Keep your child calm, separate them from the allergen –
Photo by life is fantastic on Unsplash

Keeping the child calm can help when he or she is having an allergic reaction. The child can be laid down on their back. To prevent a child from going into shock, elevate his or her feet. In case the child is vomiting, turn him or her onto the side.  

If the allergic reaction has gone out of control, it may be wise to rush the baby to the nearest hospital for check-up and treatment. This is when the child’s temperature does not go down. Treatment may also be needed if his or her body’s itchiness is getting worse and body rashes continue to form. 

Allergies can affect a child’s way of life. They can limit his or her interaction with many substances. It is therefore important for parents to expose their children to high-risk substances that can cause allergies at an early stage. In the case of allergies, children should be kept away from these triggers.

Allergy Information for Parents (infographic)
Allergy Information for Parents (infographic) – source: Zyrtec

It is important to remember that the above text does not constitute medical advice. For more information on allergies, you can view the Allergy Society of South Africa’s website. Please consult a trained medical doctor before attempting to identify and prevent allergies. We hope you have learnt more about allergic reactions in children. Do you have any stories to share or have experienced the above before? Let us know by emailing us at info@thesaltbox.co.za. Happy parenting!

1 Comment

  • Reply
    Jess
    April 16, 2019 at 11:09 pm

    It’s a shame that food allergies have to be linked to genetics like that, but I’m glad there are things I can do to help minimize unnecessary allergies in my kids!

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