Signs to Know that Your Baby Has Allergies

Knowing more about allergy symptoms can help parents recognize a potential problem early on.

Allergies are a damaging immune response that takes place when a person is hypersensitive to an allergen in their environment, whether that is dust, pollen, fur, food, or even formula. Symptoms in babies can range from mild to severe, including not only a stuffy or runny nose and cough, but hives, swelling, redness, a rash or vomiting. In severe cases, symptoms can require immediate medical attention.

That’s why it’s important for parents to monitor the development of any allergy symptoms and discuss prevention and treatment with a healthcare provider.

Food allergies:

According to Food Allergy Research and Education, 32 million Americans have food allergies, including almost six million children, and 40 percent of those children are allergic to more than one food.

Allergic conditions tend to run in families. Babies with a sibling or one biological parent who has any kind of allergies are at a higher risk for also developing a food allergy. If both parents have allergies the chance of their baby having food allergies, eczema or asthma is 50 to 80 percent. Babies who have eczema are also likely to have food allergies, so parents may want to have them tested. They may also want to learn the best way to introduce common allergy-promoting foods into the baby’s diet.

Some of the most common allergy-promoting foods are peanuts, tree nuts, cow’s milk, eggs, fish, shellfish such as shrimp or lobster, soy, and wheat. Previously, parents were advised to avoid feeding babies these foods during the first year. However, allergists now recommend introducing them early on as a way to avoid developing allergies.

Most babies begin to eat solid foods at around six months of age. If your child already has eczema or has a sibling with a peanut allergy, your healthcare provider may suggest you introduce allergens such as peanuts and eggs earlier than six months.

The foods should be introduced in small amounts, on a regular basis, with parents noting any reaction. Start by blending a small amount of the common allergen into baby cereal, offer the baby a small bite and wait 10 to 15 minutes before offering it again. If the baby has not developed any allergic symptoms after 15 minutes, parents can offer another small amount of the food and proceed cautiously.

In the past, mothers were advised to avoid common food allergens while pregnant or breastfeeding as a way to prevent the development of allergies in their babies, but there is no research to support this as an effective method. However, breastfeeding your baby until about six months can reduce the risk of developing food allergies.

Formulas can offer a nutritious easily-tolerated alternative when a mother can’t breastfeed or decides not to. However, some babies may be allergic to the ingredients in the most readily available formulas. Signs of an allergy to formula include frequent spitting up, vomiting, abdominal pain, colic-like symptoms, diarrhea, hives, a skin rash or coughing or wheezing. If your baby exhibits any of these symptoms, call your doctor. The solution may be to switch to a hypoallergenic formula.

Environmental allergies can also trigger symptoms:

A baby or toddler can develop symptoms in response to environmental irritants such as dust, pet hair or pollen. Allergies to environmental factors usually produce the easily recognizable symptoms of sneezing, wheezing and coughing, but they may also manifest as hives, a rash on the chest and face or red itchy eyes.

Keeping a home dust or pollen free may be easier than saying goodbye to a beloved pet if that pet is causing an allergic reaction. While one study suggests that being around dogs from birth might reduce the odds of developing some allergies, once a baby has been diagnosed with a pet-related allergy, parents may be advised to keep the pet away from the baby or find the pet a new home.

If a baby or toddler has allergies, parents may be referred to a pediatric allergist, who can test the child and choose an appropriate treatment or combination of treatments. An allergist will first use skin tests to determine exactly what is causing the allergic reactions. Allergy testing done by an allergist is generally safe and effective.

Children do sometimes outgrow specific allergies but more testing may be needed for confirmation.

Joan MacDonald
Joan Vos MacDonald has written about health and fitness for newspapers, magazines and websites. She is a member of the National Association of Science Writers and the author of two books on health-related topics, "Tobacco and Nicotine Dangers," for young adults, and "High Fit Home," a design book about fitness and architecture. She lives in upstate New York near her children and grandchildren.

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