Childhood Food Allergy
On this page you will find information about food allergy and spotting symptoms in children. We have free Factsheets to help guide you when it comes to weaning your baby on to solids and immunisations for your child and a food diary template, which can be found at the bottom of the page.
What is Food Allergy?
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:
- Eczema (information on Eczema can be found here)
- 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
Weaning and Food Allergy
The Department of Health recommends that high allergenic foods: Milk, eggs, wheat, gluten, soya, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, seeds can be introduced from 6 months of age. There is no evidence to support delaying introduction of these foods after 6 months. They should be introduced one at a time, with a gap of 3 days in between each new food, so that it is easier to identify any food that causes a reaction. Make sure your child is well at the time of introduction, i.e. not when they have a temperature, just had a vaccination, or have a cough or a cold.
Once your baby has had several attempts at eating the individual foods, you can start mixing them to increase the variety and enjoyment of eating. It may be helpful to keep a food and symptom diary (a food diary template can be found at the bottom of the page) to identify any foods that may have triggered a reaction. By the age of 12 months at the latest, your baby should have been introduced to all the major allergenic foods (where appropriate).