Recognizing food allergy in babies or toddlers is not always easy, but there are specific risk factors and signs that parents and other caregivers should be aware of.
One risk factor is a family history of allergy. Like countless other genetic traits, a susceptibility to allergy can be inherited. A second risk factor is eczema.
Babies with eczema are at higher risk for developing food allergies, and this risk is greater when the eczema is severe. Infants having severe eczema before the age of three months will likely develop a food allergy.
Sometimes food allergy is easy to recognize in young children because a reaction occurs right after a particular food is eaten. These reactions typically produce mild to moderate symptoms:
- Flushed face, hives, an itchy red rash around the tongue, mouth, or eyes that may spread.
- Mild swelling, especially the eyes, lips, and face.
- Stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
- Blocked or runny nose, watering eyes, sneezing.
- Scratchy or itchy throat, or mouth.
More severe reactions requiring immediate medical attention can occur. Symptoms include difficulty breathing, wheezing, swelling that blocks airways (e.g., voice change, cough, noisy breathing), dizziness, confusion, or loss of consciousness. Fortunately, these intense reactions in the very young are rare.
Parents who suspect a child is reacting to a certain food should avoid that food until the child has seen a doctor.
Delayed allergic reactions can also be an issue in infancy and early childhood. Though delayed reactions involve the immune system, they trigger parts of the immune system that are slow to respond, making identification of the problem food more difficult.
Delayed allergic reactions cause symptoms such as:
- Poor Growth
- Diarrhea, or constipation
The usual food culprits of delayed reactions are egg, soy, milk, or wheat, and symptoms will not resolve until the offending food is identified and removed from the child’s diet.
Because the symptoms of delayed reactions are also common childhood ailments that may have nothing to do with food, a definitive diagnosis can take time. Attempting to tease out an underlying allergy from other possible causes requires the aid and patience of an experienced physician.
However, if parents suspect their child is suffering a delayed reaction to food, keeping a food diary for the child - or for the mother who is breastfeeding - can help establish a consistent link between an ingested food and the presenting symptoms.
Food allergies have a significant impact on families, and studies have revealed how easy it is for people to misdiagnose a food allergy in their children, or themselves. It’s always wise to confirm your suspicions with a doctor or allergy specialist to avoid living with unnecessary food restrictions, and food allergy anxiety.