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Food allergies in early childhood

Food allergies in early childhood


Many new parents ask “how do I know if my child is allergic to any foods?” and “how can I avoid allergic reactions?”

The answer to this varies of course. Allergic reactions in children are often unpredictable and can be frightening, particularly in cases of severe allergy and anaphylaxis.

Firstly, it’s important to define the difference between ‘allergy’ and ‘intolerance.’

What is a food intolerance?

  • Digestive system response

  • More common than food allergy

  • Reactions vary in severity:

    • Nausea, vomiting

    • Cramps/bloating/diarrhea

    • Excessive crying/irritability

What is a food allergy?

  • Immune system response
  • Less common than intolerances
  • Body mistakes food/drug as harmful and initiates antibody response against it
  • Reactions vary in severity:
    • Inflammatory bowl and G.I tract
    • Blood in stool
    • Swollen lips/eyes or face
    • Tingling/itchy mouth
    • Skin reaction – Hives/Eczema*
    • Respiratory distress, wheezing
    • Anaphylaxis, tongue swelling, pale/floppy

When should you introduce allergenic foods to babies and children?

Research now recommends introducing most food groups to all babies, including allergenic foods from approximately 6 months of age.

Early introduction of allergenic foods can reduce the risk of baby developing a reaction later in life.

What are some common allergenic food groups?

  • Cow’s milk

  • Eggs

  • Peanut/tree nuts

  • Fish/shellfish

  • Sesame

  • Soybean products

  • Wheat-based breads/pasta

Top tips for introducing allergenic foods to babies and children:

  • Start introducing solid foods when baby shows signs of readiness (not before 4 months)
  • Continue offering the breast or bottle as often as before solid foods.
  • Once introduced, offer these allergenic foods twice weekly, alongside various other food groups.

What do I do if I suspect my baby has a food allergy?

Some babies may still develop food allergies despite best efforts, if you suspect your child is having an allergic reaction, remove suspected harmful food and seek medical advice.

* Babies with severe eczema in the first few months of life are at an increased risk for food allergies later in life.

Written by Keryn Thompson, RM & IBCLC (L-301766)


Albuhairi, S. and Rachid, R., 2019. The emerging biologic therapies on food allergy. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, 122(6), pp.556-558.

Allen, K. and Koplin, J., 2016. Prospects for Prevention of Food Allergy. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice, 4(2), pp.215-220.

Fiocchi, A., Assa'ad, A. and Bahna, S., 2006. Food allergy and the introduction of solid foods to infants: a consensus document. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, 97(1), pp.10-21.

Fisher, H., Du Toit, G., Bahnson, H. and Lack, G., 2018. The challenges of preventing food allergy. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, 121(3), pp.313-319.

Ierodiakonou, D., Garcia-Larsen, V., Logan, A., Groome, A., Cunha, S., Chivinge, J., Robinson, Z., Geoghegan, N., Jarrold, K., Reeves, T., Tagiyeva-Milne, N., Nurmatov, U., Trivella, M., Leonardi-Bee, J. and Boyle, R., 2016. Timing of Allergenic Food Introduction to the Infant Diet and Risk of Allergic or Autoimmune Disease. JAMA, 316(11), p.1181.

Muraro, A. and Arasi, S., 2019. Solid foods should be introduced into susceptible infants’ diets early in life-CON. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, 122(6), pp.586-588.

Muthukumar, J., Selvasekaran, P., Lokanadham, M. and Chidambaram, R., 2020. Food and food products associated with food allergy and food intolerance – An overview. Food Research International, 138, p.109780.

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