When infants have allergy symptoms, it’s important to discuss them with a pediatrician because the history and timing of the symptoms can help determine the cause.
Be sure to keep track of your child’s recent exposures (foods, environmental things) that may have triggered their symptoms.
If your pediatrician suspects allergies, they will perform a physical exam and may order blood and skin tests.
Skin testing involves placing the suspected allergen on or under the skin and looking for a skin reaction. Blood tests aren’t as accurate as skin tests, but they may help with diagnosis.
Your pediatrician may also refer you to a pediatric allergist who may recommend a food-elimination diet. This type of diet can help determine whether certain foods trigger your child’s allergy symptoms. It’s important to only eliminate foods from your child’s diet under the supervision of a healthcare professional to ensure your baby is getting balanced nutrition.
Childhood allergies may result from exposure to certain foods or things in your child’s outdoor or indoor environment.
The most common food allergens are:
- cow’s milk
- tree nuts like almonds, pecans, and cashews
Babies may also have reactions to breast milk, but this type of allergy is rare. In most cases, a reaction to the milk happens because of something in the breastfeeding parent’s diet.
Possible environmental allergens include pollen, dust, and pets.
Some children can outgrow their allergies.
In particular, most children outgrow a cow’s milk protein allergy by the age of 3. Children can also outgrow allergies to eggs, soy, and wheat. However, peanut, tree nut, fish, and shellfish allergies are likely to continue into adulthood.
Whether a child outgrows their allergies depends on the type and severity of the allergy.
A pediatrician or allergist should evaluate your child as they grow to determine whether their allergies are resolving over time.
A child’s immune system may learn to tolerate certain allergens, preventing future reactions. Immunotherapy can also help by exposing the immune system to small amounts of allergens, improving tolerance.
It’s definitely safe to introduce foods gradually when your baby is developmentally ready.
Experts recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life, but if your child is taking formula, you may introduce single-ingredient foods at between 4 to 6 months.
Monitor your child closely for signs of allergic reactions for 3 to 5 days before introducing a new food.
In recent years, studies suggest that introducing common allergens to a child’s diet during infancy may help prevent food allergies, especially for high-risk infants who have a family history of allergies.
Introducing infant-safe forms of peanuts (not whole peanuts, which are a choking risk) decreases the chances of a peanut allergy, for example. The same may be true for eggs and other foods.
Unlike allergies, food intolerances aren’t the result of an immune system response. They may cause uncomfortable symptoms, but these are usually less severe, non-life-threatening, and quicker to resolve than allergy symptoms.
A child with food intolerance may experience the following after eating certain foods:
- stomach pain
Symptoms of an allergic reaction, on the other hand, include:
- trouble breathing
- problems swallowing
- swelling of the lips and tongue
If your baby has any of the above symptoms, seek immediate medical attention, as these symptoms can be life-threatening.
Children may outgrow their allergies but develop other allergies later in life, especially if there’s a family history.
It’s important to discuss any allergy symptoms your child is having with their pediatrician to help identify the cause and appropriate treatment.
With sufficient education and monitoring, children can live long, healthy lives despite having food or environmental allergies.
Dr. Mia Armstrong is an ABMS board certified pediatrician and a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics (FAAP). Dr. Armstrong loves sharing with others and helping families learn to be healthy.