The Difference Between Food Allergies and Sensitivities
Before we get into food allergies in babies, we want to let you know more about the difference between allergies and sensitivities. Approximately 5 percent of babies have a food allergy.
An allergy is caused by an immune reaction to a particular trigger. If babies are allergic to a particular food, their immune systems see that food as a dangerous invader. To protect itself, the body releases histamine, which causes allergy symptoms.
Histamines can produce such severe allergy symptoms that the reaction can be dangerous. In some cases, allergies can cause anaphalaxis, difficulty breathing, throat tightness and dizziness. A food intolerance can cause discomfort, but the symptoms of a food intolerance aren’t life-threatening.
If your child has a food intolerance, removing the food from their diet can help. So can eliminating the food from your diet if you’re breastfeeding. Avoiding an allergen can be more complicated.
Some doctors advise you to slowly introduce allergens into your child’s food regimen if you notice that they can tolerate them. However, you shouldn’t try to manage an allergy without the help of an expert.
Symptoms of Food Allergies in Babies
The most common foods that can trigger an allergic reaction in babies are cow’s milk, eggs and soy. Many infant formulas contain cow’s milk. If your baby drinks formula, you might have to be vigilant early on to ensure that they don’t have an allergy.
Some formulas also contain soy. You might want to avoid these if you have a family history of soy allergies.
Unfortunately, the signs of a cow’s milk allergy are similar to those of a food intolerance. Therefore, if you suspect that formula is a culprit, you may have trouble determining whether your baby is allergic or just intolerant to the product.
Some signs that an infant is allergic to formula include:
- Stomach cramps that cause fussiness
- Spitting up excessively after feedings
- Blood in the stool
- Hives, eczema or itchy skin
- Severe diaper rash
- Chronic ear infections
- Ongoing runny nose
If swelling or trouble breathing occurs, your child could be having a severe reaction. Call 911 any time that you feel that your infant’s health is in danger.
Even if your baby does have a milk allergy, they may be able to handle certain types of formula. Hydrolyzed formula includes milk proteins that have been broken down to the point where the body doesn’t produce antibodies to fight them.
A milk allergy is not the same as lactose intolerance. With a true allergy, the body reacts negatively to the proteins in the milk. With lactose intolerance, the body can’t handle the milk sugars. Most infants who are sensitive to cow’s milk don’t have lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance typically begins to give children noticeable symptoms when they’re closer to 5 years of age or so.
But milk isn’t the only allergy concern for infants. Soy could also be a trigger. So could other foods once you begin introducing them to your baby’s diet.
Consuming a food once doesn’t always lead to allergy symptoms. For example, if your child is allergic to nuts, they might not show signs until the second or third time they’ve tried them.
The good news is that many children grow out of food allergies. Still, you should be careful when introducing solids. If you suspect that your child could have food allergies, introduce only one food at a time. Talk to your pediatrician about the best way to introduce new foods if you have allergy concerns.
Can You Reduce the Risk of Food Allergies?
Offering only breast milk for the first six months of your baby’s life can reduce the risk of food allergies, especially if they run in the family. If you can’t breastfeed, you might want to consider offering a hydrolyzed formula, which also reduces the chances that your child will develop eczema.
If you’re breastfeeding, you don’t usually have to worry that the foods that you eat will trigger an allergic reaction in your child. There is no evidence to show that limiting certain items can reduce the risk of allergies.
If you or someone in your family has severe food allergies, though, you might want to avoid or limit your consumption of the foods that are most likely to be associated with allergies, including:
- Dairy products
You may also want to be careful about feeding your child certain foods if they have eczema, which is usually an indication that they are allergic to something.
Doctors used to recommend that parents delay introducing high-risk foods if they were worried about allergies. Newer research shows that waiting to give kids allergenic foods could increase their risk of having a reaction, though. Still, the best course of action would be to work with your pediatrician.
If you suspect that your child has had a reaction to a certain food, consider eliminating it for four to six weeks before re-introducing it. Once you know that a food doesn’t cause a reaction, you should be able to feed it to your child as usual without concern.