It is not fully understood why allergy, especially food allergy, has increased so quickly in recent years, particularly in young children. Food allergy information is important to parents and rightly so. In Australia recent studies show that 6-8% of infants have a food allergy and that severe reactions (anaphylaxis) have increased fourfold in the last 14 years. The reason for this is a complex mix of lifestyle, environment and genetics. No single causative factor has been identified. There are many studies on food allergy underway. The most common foods to cause allergies are dairy (cow’s milk), egg, soy, wheat, peanut, other nuts, seafood and fish.
To reduce risk of food allergy
In pregnancy it is recommended women eat a varied diet and include allergenic foods as listed above. It is important with current research that these foods are not excluded, nor included in excessive amounts. Babies starting solids are recommended to have all of the allergenic foods before 12 months. Once these foods have been started in the child’s diet it is important to keep giving them 2-3 times per week. This method of early introduction is shown to significantly reduce the risk of allergy.
To diagnose food allergy
If your child does react to a food it is important to seek medical assistance. This will ensure families have individualised advice and testing. Reactions to food can vary widely including vomiting, hives, rashes and mucousy bowel motions. Skin prick testing and blood testing are both commonly used to diagnose food allergy. In some instances a test is not available and instead a dietary trial of stopping the food in the child’s diet temporarily is used instead.
To manage a food allergy
During any period a child’s diet is restricted, their nutrition is at risk. It is important they have other foods to help replace the nutrients they are missing. Calcium, fibre and dietary variety are commonly at risk when a child has a food allergy. Families need extensive dietary education including label reading, meeting nutrient needs, cooking without the allergenic food and managing social eating such as children’s parties and childcare.
Food allergy is now a common issue for children in Australia. Parents can reduce risk of food allergy using the above information. When it comes to the diagnosis of a food allergy and managing a food allergy these should involve health professionals who can guide them.
Author: Lauren Gladman – Accredited practicing dietitian (APD) specialising in infant, children and adolescent nutrition for 16 years. Mum to Isla, 8 years and Finn, 6 years and Ted 2 years.