Reducing the Risk from Food Allergies
Food allergies get lots of attention, so it’s natural to wonder about the potential harm to your child. While reactions to food can be serious, it’s important to know the facts and what you can do to reduce your child’s risk.
- Food allergies in children are relatively rare. In 2007, about four in 100 children younger than 18 had a food or digestive allergy.
- Most children outgrow food allergies, especially to milk, eggs and soy. Food allergies are much less common in adults than children.
- Eight foods cause 90% of food allergies in children: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (pecans, walnuts), fish, shellfish, soy and wheat. Four food groups cause almost all allergies in adults: fish, shellfish, tree nuts and peanuts.
- The only way to prevent a food allergy is to avoid the food and any items that contain it as an ingredient. Promising treatments for food allergies are in the works. Ongoing studies indicate it may be possible to “desensitize” children, even those with severe reactions.
Tips for Reducing a Child’s Risk of Developing Food Allergies
Take special care with feeding practices during your child’s first years, especially if someone in your family — including grandparents, cousins, aunts or uncles — is allergic to any foods. While following these feeding tips cannot guarantee a child will not develop a food allergy, it may help reduce the risk.
- Exclusive breastfeeding for at least 4 months decreases the incidence of atopic dermatitis, cow’s milk allergy and wheezing in early life when compared with feeding infants cow’s milk-based formula.
- The use of soy-based infant formula does not appear to play a role in allergy prevention.
- Solid foods should not be introduced before 4 to 6 months of age. Delaying the introduction of solid foods beyond 4 to 6 months of age does not appear to provide significant protective effect from developing food allergies.
- At this time there is insufficient evidence to recommend further dietary interventions such as avoiding specific foods (including fish, eggs or peanuts) during pregnancy, breastfeeding or beyond 4 to 6 months of age to protect against the development of food allergies.
If at any time your infant reacts badly to a food, such as suddenly developing a skin condition, wheezing, vomiting or excessive diarrhea, or if you have any reason to suspect he or she may be allergic to a food, call your pediatrician immediately.
Keeping Kids with Allergies as Safe as Possible
Once your pediatrician or allergist has tested and confirmed food allergies, you need to be diligent about avoiding the food(s).
- Read Food Labels for Potential Problems. If you don’t know what an ingredient is, call the manufacturer for details.
- Educate Family, Caregivers and Teachers about Your Child’s Allergies. Some people don’t know how serious food allergies can be and may not understand even tiny amounts of a food can be a problem.
- Teach Your Child about the Allergy. He or she can learn to take responsibility for avoiding the foods that cause problems.
- Consult a Registered Dietitian. An RD will work with you and your child to develop a healthful eating pattern while avoiding allergens.