Every month we are fortunate to be able to call on the wisdom of NHS GP, Dr Tara @themedicmummy. This month she discusses signs and symptoms of food allergies in children and steps to introduce allergenic food to your little ones.
"It’s Allergy Awareness Week! This gives us a great opportunity to discuss and raise awareness about allergies and in this feature I will be focusing specifically on childhood food allergies.
A food allergy occurs when the body’s immune system wrongly identifies certain proteins in foods as harmful. This triggers a reaction with the release of a number of chemicals including histamine and leads to the symptoms of an allergic reaction. Some of the foods that are likely to trigger a reaction include cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, wheat, gluten and soy."
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The food allergy can present with a range of symptoms such as:
- Diarrhoea and Vomiting
- Shortness of breath
- Itchy throat and tongue
- Itchy red rash
- Itchy eyes
- Runny nose
- Swollen face, lips and tongue
In a few cases, it can cause a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) with breathing difficulties, wheezing, facial swelling and a rash this can be life-threatening. If you suspect this call the emergency services (999 in the UK) and get urgent medical help.
Medical emergency service numbers vary in every country. See the comprehensive list from wildabouttravel.com as a guide.
Food allergies are often seen in children with a background of other allergic conditions such as eczema, asthma, hayfever or if there is a family history of these conditions. If your baby has already been diagnosed with a food allergy, eczema or has any of the risk factors mentioned you should take particular care when introducing new foods, as they would be considered as a higher risk. You should speak to your healthcare professional before you start weaning who may suggest earlier introductions of solids with the support of a specialist. There is now evidence to suggest that early allergen introduction can reduce the risk of developing food allergies.
Generally allergenic foods can be introduced around 6 months as part of your baby’s usual diet and here are a few tips on how:
- Introduce the food allergen early in the day, one at a time and with 3 days between any new foods. This allows you to monitor for any reactions through the day and identify the particular allergen.
- Offer a very small amount of the allergen starting with a quarter/ half a teaspoon and build this up gradually, if there is no reaction you can continue giving the food regularly as part of your baby’s usual diet.
- Keep a food and symptom diary this will make it easier to identify the possible food allergen.
- Choose a day when your baby is well.
Children under 5 should not be given whole nuts due to the risk of choking.
Nuts should be crushed, ground or in the form of a smooth nut butter.
If you have any concerns or suspect that your baby may have a food allergy speak to your health professional, you may need a referral to an allergy clinic for testing. The tests can vary depending on the type of allergy; this includes skin prick tests, blood tests or a food elimination diet under dietician supervision. In confirmed food allergies, treatment involves input from the GP, allergy specialist and the dietician; providing education and support, advice on food allergy avoidance, written advice on management of symptoms, antihistamines for mild to moderate reactions and adrenaline (Epipen) for more severe reactions (anaphylaxis).
All images by @themedicmumy
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