Food allergy comes in various ways. It may be in form of rashes a few hours after a meal; or it may be stomach ache, running nose, itching around the mouth, vomiting and other uncomfortable feelings when an individual eats something that is unacceptable to his body. Anyone can suffer from food allergy, children inclusive. In worst case scenarios, an individual may have breathing problems if s/he eats any food he is allergic to. Experts say a situation like this is an emergency and should be treated as such.
General Practitioner, Dr. Isaac Fijabi, says food allergies occur when someone’s immune system becomes ‘confused’, such that instead of ignoring harmless food proteins, the immune system triggers a reaction. “This reaction can lead to the release of a chemical called histamine, and it is this chemical that triggers off the symptoms of allergy,” Fijabi says. According to Consultant Paediatrician, Dr. Grace Odey, allergies can result in a child having asthma, eczema, swelling, and hay fever. She warns that apart from food allergies, a child can also react to drugs, insect bites, animal fur, dust mites, mould, and pollen. She notes that severe allergic reaction, otherwise called anaphylaxis, can be life threatening if the child does not receive appropriate medical attention. “In most cases, food allergy begins in infancy or early childhood. A child is likely to have food allergy if some members of the family do,” Odey says.
Tracing the relationship between allergies and certain diseases, Odey says babies who suffer from eczema are particularly at risk of having food allergies. “The more severe the eczema and the earlier in life that it begins, the more likely it is for that baby to develop food allergy. A baby who has severe eczema before three months of age is very likely to suffer from food allergies,” Odey adds.
Symptoms of food allergy
When a case of allergy is present, a child may have mild-to-moderate symptoms that affect the skin, the respiratory system and the gut.Odey says it may be a flushed face, hives, a red and itchy rash around the mouth, tongue or eyes that can also spread across the entire body. “There may be a mild swelling, particularly of the lips, eyes and face. The child can develop a runny or blocked nose, sneezing and watery eyes.
“There may be nausea and vomiting, tummy cramps and diarrhoea; while the child can also have wheezing or chest tightness as if s/he is suffering from severe asthma attack. “There may also be swelling of the tongue and throat, restricting the airways, resulting in hard breathing, a cough or a change in voice,” the paediatrician explains. She adds that in many cases also, there may be dizziness and confusion, while the victim may collapse and lose consciousness or lapse into a coma!
Odey warns that undiagnosed allergies in infants may cause chronic symptoms such as eczema, reflux, colic, poor growth, diarrhoea and constipation. Paediatric nutritionists say the worst foods through which a baby can get allergies are milk, soy, egg, and wheat. Odey counsels that if parents suspect a case of allergy, they should watch their baby’s reactions to a particular food between the time of feeding and when the next feeding is due. She says some allergic reactions are immediate, in which case the parents are able to know for sure that their baby can’t tolerate certain foods. In cases where the parents cannot immediately establish what the problem is, of course, taking the child to see a competent doctor remains the only course of action.
Questions to ponder
Experts say a parent should try and answers the following questions in order to determine whether or not a baby is allergic to something in his/her environment.
Does your child always have a cold? Colds usually clear in a week to 10 days; allergies don’t.
Is your child’s nose continually stuffy or running?
Is your child constantly wiggling, wiping, or pushing her nose up in what doctors call the allergic salute?
Is the mucus that drains from his/her nose clear and thin (as opposed to yellow or greenish and thick)?
Does s/he seem to sneeze a lot?
Are his/her eyes itchy, red, and watery?
Does the skin under his/her eyes look dark – what doctors call allergic shiners?
Does s/he breathe through her mouth?
Does s/he have a persistent dry cough?
Is his/her skin irritated or broken out in an itchy red rash?
If you answer yes to one or more of these questions, seek medical help.
Foods you shouldn’t give a baby
According to experts at the online portal, parents.com, the following are some of the foods to avoid feeding your baby with:
- Cow’s milk as a replacement for breast milk or baby formula. It’s harder for your baby to digest. Milk is fine in yoghurt or baked goods, though.
- Food that is either sticky or really hard (popcorn, hard candies); they can cause your baby to choke.
- Hard raw vegetables (such as carrots), whole pieces of canned fruit, and large round fruits like grapes and jumbo blueberries — all choking hazards. Cut the fruit into smaller pieces instead.
- Whole nuts. All nuts present choking hazards in children under age four.
- Honey. There’s an off-chance it may contain bacteria that can cause infant botulism among babies under the age of one.
- Anything caffeinated, such as soda or iced tea.
- Too much fruit juice in a day. It can cause diarrhea in infants.
- Unpasteurised cheese, which has a slight food poisoning risk in young babies.
- Fish — especially shellfish like shrimp, lobster, crab, scallops. This is necessary if seafood allergies run in the family.
- Swordfish, shark, tilefish or king mackerel, which are high in mercury. Even adults shouldn’t eat these very often.