What You Need to Know about Food Allergies in Children

Parents are often eager to introduce their children to new foods, hoping that an early dose of fruits and vegetables will produce healthy eaters down the road. But what’s the best timeline for giving babies new foods? And what about foods like peanuts or shellfish that could trigger an allergic reaction?

Old guidelines cautioned parents not to introduce new foods until age 2, but those recommendations are outdated. Now, parents are encouraged to give babies just about any kind of food once they begin eating solid foods at the age of 4 to 6 months, explains Dr. Carolyn Word of Charleston Allergy & Asthma

“I’m always getting questions about when to introduce new foods and how to prevent food allergies from parents,” she says. “I recommend spacing out new foods. If they eat four new items in one day and experience a reaction, it’s harder to pinpoint the culinary culprit. Aim for one new food every three to five days.” 

If the child doesn’t have any known food allergies, or doesn’t have siblings with food allergies, it’s safe to introduce even those high-risk foods, such as peanuts, as early as 6 months. Word suggests mixing peanut powder with yogurt or pureed apples so it’s easier for babies to eat.

If your child is at a higher risk for allergies – family history or has eczema – work with a board certified allergist on the best way to introduce new foods. Allergists also can give babies a small amount of potential allergens in the office so they can monitor any potential reactions.

Even if you aren’t anticipating any issues, be watchful for any symptoms. And be sure to let any other child care providers (babysitter, daycare worker) know that your baby had a new food that morning.

Symptoms to be on the look out for after giving a child a new food include:

  • Hives, wheals or swelling

  • Choking/coughing – these can be signs of throat swelling, which young children can’t describe, or signs of respiratory distress

  • Vomiting/diarrhea – more than one episode

If you suspect your baby has an allergy, see a board certified allergist for a skin test to determine if the reaction is indeed an allergy. Word says not every reaction is a true allergy. For example, certain condiments like ranch dressing and barbecue sauce can cause a rash around a young child’s mouth, but it’s not an allergy.

When it comes to introducing new foods, many parents wonder if allergies can be prevented. Word says there is no conclusive evidence that suggests eating certain foods while pregnant or breastfeeding can prevent food allergies in children.

In 2015, researchers released the results of the Learning Early About Peanut (LEAP) study, sharing proof that early introduction of peanuts may offer protection from the development of peanut allergies. The study found about a 60 percent reduction of peanut allergies in those children with a known allergy.

Despite the encouraging results of that study, parents still should consult with a board certified allergist – especially if their child is at risk for an allergy – before introducing peanuts. But it’s worth a discussion that could save a child from a lifetime of worry.

For over 30 years, the team at Charleston Allergy & Asthma has been helping Lowcountry residents breathe better, feel better and live better. All the doctors are board certified allergists who use the latest treatments available to manage a wide range of allergies and asthma.

To request an appointment or learn more about services, visit charlestonallergy.com.

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