Almost 1 in 12 young children suffer from a food allergy and they seem to be getting more and more common. Food allergies occur when your immune system becomes confused – instead of ignoring harmless food proteins, it triggers a reaction, which leads to the release of a chemical called histamine.
It is histamine which causes the classic allergy symptoms of hives or swelling. More severe reactions are called anaphylaxis, and this may be life threatening.
How do I know if my baby has a food allergy?
Food allergies are much more common amongst children who come from families where other members suffer from allergy. Babies who suffer from eczema are at a higher risk of having food allergies. The more severe the eczema and the earlier in life that it began, the more likely there is to be a food allergy.
What are the symptoms of food allergy in babies and children?
Symptoms of an immediate food allergy:
Mild to moderate symptoms typically affect the skin, the respiratory system and the gut.
- A flushed face, hives, a red and itchy rash around the mouth, tongue or eyes. This can spread across the entire body
- Mild swelling, particularly of the lips, eyes and face
- A runny or blocked nose, sneezing and watering eyes
- Nausea and vomiting, tummy cramps and diarrhoea
- A scratchy or itchy mouth and throat.
Severe symptoms (anaphylaxis). These require urgent medical attention.
- Wheezing or chest tightness, similar to a severe asthma attack
- Swelling of the tongue and throat, restricting the airways. This can cause noisy breathing (especially on breathing in), a cough or a change in voice
- A sudden drop in blood pressure (called hypotension) leading to shock
- Dizziness, confusion, collapse, loss of consciousness and sometimes coma.
Symptoms of delayed food allergy:
- Reflux – an effortless vomiting
- Poor growth
- Swelling in the small bowel
- Constipation and/or diarrhoea
- Raising knees to chest with tummy pain
- Frequent distress and crying
How can I manage my child’s food allergy?
Managing a food allergy in children or babies can be stressful not only for the child but also for the parents. There are 3 key things to be on top of when it comes to managing a food allergy:
- Identify and avoid the cause (if possible)
- Recognise the symptoms of an allergic reaction
- Know what to do if it happens again.
Allergies are difficult to determine unless your child has an immediate reaction. A reaction can occur at any time. If you are noticing signs of an allergy in your child, completing a symptoms diary is the best way to understand what they might be allergic to, recording all positive and negative changes in symptoms. Additionally, symptoms diaries can be especially helpful when discussing your child’s condition with doctors. It can be difficult, when speaking with a doctor, to remember all the symptoms and exactly what occurred and when. By recording times and dates of symptoms a diary can highlight what triggers an allergic reaction and help everyone understand when treatment works and what may need to be changed.