Food allergies are a serious, and dangerous, reality for many Americans. Food allergies may cause symptoms varying from an irritating itchy sensation to life-threatening anaphylaxis. What makes food allergies even scarier is that the severity of reactions can change rapidly – a person who develops a rash from eating shrimp once may suffer full anaphylactic shock the next time shellfish is eaten. Conversely, some food allergies are not lifelong afflictions, and a serious allergy in childhood may disappear completely by adulthood. With as serious as consequences may be, however, it is best to never assume an allergy has been outgrown and to never reintroduce a potential allergen without doctor’s supervision. All parents want what is best for their children, so many expectant mothers question if there is anything they can do to prevent their child from developing potentially fatal food allergies. There is no foolproof method, but allergists have recommendations that may help.
An infant is significantly more likely to develop a food allergy if he/she has at least one biological sibling or parent with a similar affliction. This risk is increased further if the infant presents signs of respiratory allergies, such as allergic rhinitis, dermatitis, or asthma. There is currently no evidence to support that avoiding certain foods during pregnancy helps prevent an infant from developing food allergies, but strong evidence supports that breastfeeding for at least four- to six-months does help prevent such allergies, as well as providing countless other benefits. Breastmilk is easy to digest, unlikely to trigger allergic reactions, and strengthens the immune system. Slowly introducing new, single-ingredient foods into the infant’s diet between four- and six-months’ of age at a rate of one new ingredient no more than every three to five days allows parents and/or caregivers ample time to identify any potential reaction to the newly introduced ingredient. Common allergens, such as peanuts, dairy, eggs, tree nuts, shellfish, soy, or fish should be gradually introduced in the same basic time frame. Some studies suggest that delaying introducing these foods may actually increase the child’s likelihood of developing an allergy to one or more of these items.
If you suspect your child has a food allergy, or if you have an older child with food allergies, it is advisable to have your pediatrician administer an allergy test or get a referral to an allergist.
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