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Identifying and Preventing Food Allergies in Babies

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What is Food Allergy?


Food allergies happen when the immune system becomes confused and triggers a reaction. This leads to the release of a chemical called histamine. Histamine causes symptoms that affect the eyes, nose, throat, respiratory system, skin and the digestive system. The first sign that an allergy has occured is runny nose, itchy skin rash such as hives or tingling in the tongue or lips. Other signs may include wheezing, cough, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain and diarrhoea.


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How to Prevent Food Allergies in Babies?


 It is important that when introducing food to a baby, start gradually, one at a time. If a variety of food is introduced all at the same time, then you may have trouble finding out the cause of the allergy. Remember to always give babies healthy and well-balanced foods. When you offer new food, wait three to five days before introducing new items to the menu. Add the new food gradually. Do not eliminate the other food that your baby is eating during that time so that you will know which food causes an allergy, if any.


When introducing new food, always be on the lookout for any allergic reactions. Experts suggest avoiding foods like milk, egg, peanuts, walnuts/almonds, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat until the child is 3 years of age. If you are unsure, always consult your paediatrician. Most serious food allergies start in infancy and early childhood. In Malaysia, more children are allergic to red or orange fruits and berries.


What To Do When Your Baby Has An Allergy?


Immediate signs of allergy are easy to spot as they usually occur after the food is eaten. Some food allergies are easy to spot; i.e. an itchy rash that develops around the mouth. If you suspect an allergy, it is best to avoid the food until you have seen a doctor. If your child is experiencing a delayed symptom (such as eczema or reflux), keep a food diary. Jot down the kinds of food he is eating (yours too if you are breastfeeding). If the symptoms are consistent, the diary will be very helpful when you go to the doctor.


How Are Food Allergies Treated?


Because there is no special medicine for food allergies, it is best to avoid the food itself or any foods and drinks that contain the food. Some allergies can be outgrown and others last a lifetime. Prevention is better than cure in this case. Always read food labels or ingredient list. Your doctor can assist you by providing a list of safe and unsafe foods. Because children with food allergies are also at risk of missing out on essential nutrients because of the food they are avoiding, give them substitutes. For example, milk allergies can be substituted with specially designed milk substitutes. So with the help of a dietitian, your children can still enjoy a nutritious diet.


Children with food allergies should continue to be seen by their doctors. This will help in determining if the allergy has been outgrown. Because there is no cure for allergies, doctors and dietitians can help children with food allergies have a varied and nourishing diet that is essential for their development. With clear understanding of the situation and food choices, food allergies can be kept at a manageable level.