New Guidelines Announced for Children and Food Allergies

Controlling Childhood Allergies

Could early exposure to potential food allergens prevent children from developing allergies?

New recommendations from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology say that peanut butter, milk, fish, and eggs might be safe to give to babies as young as 4 to 6 months old. The previous guidelines recommended parents wait until children were 12 months to 3 years old before exposing children to these foods.

The new recommendations advise parents to first introduce easy foods like cereal and produce before incorporating a potentially high-allergenic food choice. While these potential allergens should never be the first foods that a child tries, they can be given at home and increased gradually if the child doesn’t have an allergic reaction.

“Generally, the first reaction tends to be milder,” pediatrician Dr. Alanna Levine said on an interview on the Today Show. “You can see a rash, like hives that are splotchy and cause itching. A more serious reaction would be difficulty breathing or wheezing, and that feeling of throat swelling that can progress to a more life-threatening anaphylaxis.”

According to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), 1 in 13 children have a food allergy, and eight foods account for 90 percent of all food allergy reactions. The most common foods associated with food allergies include: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish.

It is never advised that you test for a food allergy on your own, and medical professionals can test for food allergies using different methods, including skin prick tests, blood tests, oral food challenges, and a trial elimination diet that entails removing certain foods from a diet to monitor whether symptoms disappear after foods are removed.

Right now, there is no way to prevent a food allergy attack aside from preventing exposure to the problem food. While this may be easier for adults to manage, one way parents can prevent exposure in their children is to ensure any teachers, babysitters, or other caregivers are aware of any existing food allergies to prevent the child from being exposed to problematic food groups. It is also best if the child wears a medical ID to let others know about his or her need to avoid certain food allergens.

While no one is sure why there is an increasing prevalence for the number of children living with food allergies, one hypothesis is referred to as the “hygiene hypothesis.”

“We’re living in such a cleaner world now; we’re using antibiotics that are fighting infection and so the body, the immune system, is reacting to things that are harmless in the environment instead of things that are harmful,” Dr. Levine said.

As with any changes to a child’s healthcare, it is best to consult with your child’s doctor about any changes to your child’s diet.

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