Cold, stomach upsets and rashes occur commonly in babies. But the occurrence of one or more of these symptoms can also signal a serious allergy in the baby. And chances are, if these symptoms are not recognized and managed properly, the infant can become miserable and malnourished.
Approximately 6% of infants and 3-4% of adults in the US have a food allergy. This intolerance to milk can cause serious digestive, respiratory and skin problems. Most of the times, allergies in infants are difficult to recognize, as they mimic signs of other illnesses and can be confusing to the new as well as experienced parents. The allergies in infants can be varied and difficult to isolate.
Medical practitioners group allergens into three broad categories namely:
While food allergy includes dairy products, gluten, shellfish, peanuts, soy, tree nuts and corn, inhalants include dust mites, pollens, animal danders and dust from grains. Environmentals include chemicals
found with the environment that can come in contact with the skin, and can be inhaled and ingested.
Allergy symptoms in infants and toddlers
Certain signs and symptoms of allergy can be truly confusing even to the adult sufferer. It is better to consult a qualified medical specialist and heed advice on the warning signs of allergy in infancy.
This can also provide ideas for prevention.
- Probably the most common reaction to allergen will be a rash or raised bumps. These welts that are red in color resemble a mosquito bite in size and appearance. If they resemble hive, they get clustered together. In case the infant has contacted allergy, the hives will appear at the place of contact; whereas if the hive is due to ingested food, it can be seen in the stomach, hands, face, back and inside of the thighs.
- As many infants are prone to external yeast infections, the parent should be discerning enough to differentiate between tiny bumps and a hive of allergy.
- As in infants, the itchiness of hives is not adequately expressed, the child cries inconsolably. The parent can witness scratching and rolling around behavior, when the child tries to scratch itchy
- Yet another allergy symptom in the infant may be eczema. This dry scaling skin can look almost like skin shedding. On the head it is often misdiagnosed as 'cradle cap'. When it appears behind the ears, it appears as if the ears have not been washed properly, but it will not wash off.
- Swelling of the eyes, lips, and face is another prominent sign of allergy reaction. At the instance of swelling, it is important to monitor the child's breathing. This is due to the fact that if the throat swells, the breathing passage could close leading to anaphylactic shock and possible death.
- Other symptoms include constant runny dripping nose and seemingly weeping eyes.
- Some infants with sinus problems can develop a cough as the throat is inflamed from drainage at night and during nap times.
- An infant with allergic reactions tend to sleep much more that normal. Conversely, they may also sleep very little and seem to be unable to self-calm. They need constant attention from the parents.
- Food allergy can cause them to overeat and the brain deals with the toxins by storing them as fat.
- These children have huge bellies and emaciated legs and arms.
- Reactions to wheat gluten reveals as peculiar rash on the buttocks and upper thighs known as DH - dermatitis herpetiforma.
What is allergic reaction to food?
If the toddler is allergic to food, his/her body treats the food like an invader and launches an immune-system attack. Sometimes the body makes an antibody called IgE, a protein that can detect the food. In case the food is consumed again, this antibody tells the toddler's immune system to release substances such as histamine to fight the invader.
Certain foods are most likely to cause allergy in toddlers and infants. They include:
- Wheat, rye, oats, barley and maize/corn
- Hen eggs, and chicken meat
- Cane and beer sugar
- Fish and shell fish
- Colorings and preservatives
- Citrus fruit
Reducing food allergy
There are two essential things that a parent should do to reduce the baby's susceptibility to food allergies and also to reduce the severity of food allergies.
- It is better to wait at least 6 months to introduce solids
As babies are not born with adult digestive systems, they cannot handle foods and cannot digest them properly until their digestive systems are fully matured. This should take atleast 4 - 6 months of age. For the first six months, the baby should have breast milk or formula. Waiting till 6 months to give solid foods give the babies better chance of actually being able to digest food and a smooth digestion reduces risk of allergies.
- Apply the 4-day wait rule when a new food is introduced to the baby.
For a reaction to show up, sometimes it may take three to four days time. It is better to introduce one
food at a time and wait for four days before introducing another food. If the parent notices any particular problems it is better to exclude it from the baby's diet and have a healthy happy baby.
In case a family history of food intolerance is seen, it is recommended to avoid the introduction of cow's milk and wheat until the baby is twelve months or even older. It is imperative to seek the aid of a
medical professional if the baby's allergy is sudden, extreme and long lasting and fails to improve.
Management of food allergy in infants and toddlers
If the toddler has difficulty in breathing, has swelling in face and lips and develops severe vomiting and diarrhea, call the local emergency number right away.
Severe allergic reactions warrant immediate response. For instance, it takes only a couple of minutes for the baby's airway to close. One requires the help of paramedics at this stage as soon as possible. Again if the toddler exhibits symptoms within 2 hours of eating a certain food, consult the doctor immediately.
A pediatric allergist should intervene for necessary testing. This allergist will be in a position to brief the parent on the food that is causing the problem and whether the symptoms are part of an immune
reaction indicating an allergy.
Normally, doctors recommend the parent to carry an epinephrine auto-injector in case of an allergic reaction in the child. This device can automatically administer the right dose of epinephrine to stop an allergic reaction. And it is very important to inform babysitters, relatives, and day care workers of the allergy and what the child should eat and what not.