Published on Dec 05, 2011 with 27 comments
Baby allergies are a fear of any new parent. Allergies in babies are relatively common, and, because of their age, newborns and infants can be especially sensitive to food allergies. Symptoms of allergies in babies and infants may include colic, irritability, excessive spitting and vomiting, rashes (including eczema or hives), nasal symptoms (such as congestion and runny nose), coughing or wheezing, and other gastrointestinal symptoms (diarrhea, bloody stools, or constipation). There can also be poor weight gain.
Allergies in babies up to age one are almost always caused by food, the most common being cow’s milk. Yet, a baby does not have to drink milk for symptoms to occur. The offending milk proteins in milk can enter the baby’s system through milk-based commercial formulas, as well as by passing through the mother’s milk during nursing. A small percentage of milk-allergic babies are also allergic to soy formula.
In recent years, researchers have devoted themselves to understanding the disturbing rise of food allergies, especially in infants and young children. What they have discovered is leading allergists and pediatricians to consider revising the current recommendations on how and when to introduce foods to infants.
For many decades, the time-honored and well-established approach was to delay the introduction of highly allergenic foods into the infant’s diet to prevent the emergence of food allergies. For example, solid foods are generally not recommended until six months of age; cow’s milk until one year; eggs until two years; and peanuts, tree nuts, and fish until three years. And, there is also a widely accepted notion that breastfeeding alone for the first six months of life will minimize or delay the onset of food allergies and other allergic diseases (including asthma), as well as atopic dermatitis or eczema.
The latest medical evidence however, is debunking these age-old theories. New research is suggesting that the recommendation to delay the introduction of foods to infants as a means of preventing food allergies may be the wrong approach altogether. Recent studies have revealed very credible scientific evidence to suggest that the common practice of delaying the introduction of cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, and other foods may actually increase the child’s risk of developing food allergies. And, even more importantly, there is evidence to suggest that the early introduction of allergenic foods may actually prevent the development of the allergy to that food. As an example, a recent study demonstrated that children in England were ten times more likely to be allergic to peanuts than children in Israel. One very strong hypothesis to explain this finding is the fact that Israeli infants are introduced to peanuts, generally through an Israeli product called “Bamba” (an ideal teething food in terms of consistency), at about six months of age. On the other hand, children in England are generally not introduced to peanuts in any form until approximately three years of age. This study is just one of many that strongly suggest that an early introduction to certain foods can help babies build desensitization, thereby decreasing the risk of developing a food allergy.
The jury is still out with regard to many questions concerning allergies in babies and infants, but there is excitement in the field of allergy about the possibility of new breakthroughs in the near future, both in prevention and treatment. One has good reason to be optimistic that safe and effective treatments for food allergies are close at hand.