What is food allergy?

Food allergy is, immune system reacting to harmless foods by identifying them as harmful. The body triggers the defense mechanism in reaction to this and allergy appears.

Food allergies may appear in babyhood and childhood and sometimes even before the baby is born. Children with at least one parent or sister with allergic history (allergic rhinitis, asthma, food allergy or eczema) have 20% higher chance of being allergic to certain foods between the ages of 5 to 7.

In case of allergy symptoms show up within minutes. When you try a food for the first time or the second time, you will immediately see whether your baby is allergic to that or not. Allergic symptoms are rashes on face, mouth, tongue or body, swelling of the lips or eyes, continuous nasal discharge or congestion, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. In more severe cases wheezing, difficulty to breathe, fatigue may be seen. In such a case you shouldn’t panic, keep in mind that it’s manageable and must immediately seek medical advice.

Which babies have higher risk of food allergy?

First go through your family heritage. Not the list with exciting goodies unfortunately but the one with allergies. Does your family have food allergy history? Before starting to worry about your child, first it’s better to answer this question. Because if there is food allergy history in the family, your baby will have a higher possibility of having it. And just note that babies with eczema tend to have food allergies more.

Children with at least one parent or sister with allergic history (allergic rhinitis, asthma, food allergy or eczema) have 20% higher chance of being allergic to certain foods between the ages of 5 to 7.
As the breastfeeding period is a sensitive period in terms of starting of a food allergy, allergy in babies should be prevented and necessary actions should be taken right after birth.

How does food allergy progress?

What you should do is following the signs and cues carefully. When a baby has allergy symptoms appear in minutes. When you try a food for the first or the second time, you immediately see whether your baby is allergic to that certain food or not. Allergic symptoms are rashes on face, mouth, tongue or body, swelling of the lips or eyes, continuous nasal discharge or congestion, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. In more severe cases, allergy may start in the form of wheezing, difficulty to breathe and fatigue. In such a case you shouldn’t panic, keep in mind that it’s manageable and you must immediately seek medical advice.

There are various types of allergies and some are subtler. These are called delayed allergies; their symptoms appear in time, thus they are harder to identify. As no immediate symptom is seen, child continues to eat these foods. In general milk, soy, egg and wheat products may cause this type of allergy. Allergy symptoms may be eczema, reflux, stomach pain, inadequate growth, diarrhea or constipation. Even if you stop giving your baby the food that causes allergy, symptoms subside but don't disappear completely.

If you suspect this type of an allergy, keeping an allergy journal helps a lot. You can note down the foods your baby has and allergies seen. Be sure to update this journal at least two times a week. It’s not a romantic diary to read your child when he grows up but it’s helpful to track the cues. Along with it you must seek supervision of a doctor to identify the food allergies.

How can allergy be diagnosed?

If you suspect allergy, visit your doctor first. There are many allergy tests including skin tests or blood tests, which may help identify what your baby is allergic to. Do not forget to tell the doctor the foods you suspect. Tests will be done based on the foods you suspect but besides, common foods that cause allergic reactions may also be tested (cow's milk, wheat products, soy, fish, shellfish, egg, peanut, hazelnut, walnut etc.). If you wish you might ask your doctor’s opinion on allergy drugs however it is best to determine and eliminate the foods that your baby may be allergic to.
What are the symptoms of food allergy?

Allergic symptoms:
Cramp like stomach pain
Head aches
Coughing, wheezing
Recurrent middle ear problems
Cold (nasal itching, sneezing, post nasal drainage)

For many people with food allergies, these reactions are uncomfortable rather than being dangerous. So keep calm, observe and consult your pediatrician. In some rare cases severe reactions may be seen and you should immediately seek medical advice in such a case.

Foods that pose risk of food allergy

Cow's milk: Your doctor will decide whether to include foods like cheese, yoghurt, butter, and cream in diets of children that are allergic to cow's milk.

Egg: Egg is a frequently consumed food. It is also used as an ingredient in many products so children may be easily allergic to them. Allergy to egg white is more common than to egg yolk. Egg allergy mostly develops in babyhood and early childhood. Its effect gradually goes down and completely ends during adulthood. Symptoms of egg allergy would be eczema or itching, skin and eye lesions. Egg allergy could manifest as redness, wheezing, vomiting and diarrhea after eating eggs or any food that contains eggs. Egg white should not be given to babies before the age of one and should be introduced gradually. When allergy symptoms appear, you should wait for at least six months before feeding your baby eggs again.

Fish and shellfish: Here are some of the fishes and seafoods causing allergy: Mackerel, tuna, lobster, cod fish, sardine, crawfish, shrimps, crab, snails, mussel, oyster, and squid.

Nuts and oily dried fruits (hazelnut, pistachio etc.): Allergic foods listed under this group are peanut, almond, coconut, chestnut, walnut, pistachio, hazelnut and walnut. Most doctors believe that dried fruits should be introduced to children between 12 and 36 months. If your baby is not prone to allergies or there is no allergy story in your family history you may introduce dried fruits around 12 months. However if your baby were prone to allergies, maybe it would be better for you to wait until he is 24 to 36 months old.

Whole grains: Corn is less allergenic compared to wheat. Wheat is challenging, as it is very hard to eliminate it from diets; it is a major part of almost every diet. People with wheat allergy (gluten enteropathy and/or celiac) must eliminate bread, bulgur, kuskus, crackers, starch, durum wheat and durum flour, gluten, pasta, noodle from their diets.

Meats: Food allergy to chicken and beef is generally seen during babyhood. Lamb meat is less allergenic among all. Babies sensitive to milk may have allergic reactions against beef and likewise people with allergy to eggs may also be sensitive to chicken beef.

Fruits, vegetables: Children may have allergies to fruits and vegetables like strawberry, kiwi, pineapple, and tomato. Orange may cause symptoms especially in the childhood; the period in which it is frequently consumed. Vegetables like zucchini and tomato may also cause various clinical symptoms. Some may be sensitive to skins of vegetables like potato or carrot whereas it is possible that no allergic reaction is seen towards their edible parts.

Spices and flavor agents: Ginger, celery seed, cinnamon, clove, coriander, nutmeg, mustard, black pepper, chili pepper, poppy seed, sage and vanilla may cause food allergies.

Mustard: It is a strong allergen and may cause asthma or rash especially in children.

Chocolate: Allergic nasal discharge, migraine, reddening and itching of the skin and digestive system disorders may be seen especially in children.

What should I pay attention to?

- First of all, do not try to make diagnosis by yourself. This may cause you or your children to miss out a very important food necessary for your and your baby's development and growth. You should definitely consult your doctor for diagnosing and treating food allergy.

- Get a habit of checking the "label" of every product you buy. (Ingredients, production and expiry date)

- A child suspected of having a food allergy should not be given any suspected foods until the tests are completed by an allergy expert.

-After the final diagnosis is made, eliminate the food or foods that your child is allergic to from their diet. Even if consumed in very low amounts these may foods may cause severe reactions so you definitely have to avoid them. Don’t call for adventures. There are thousands of other ways to be adventurous.

- If an important foods is eliminated from the diet, the diet should be rearranged accordingly to avoid any nutritional deficiency.

- Person diagnosed with a food allergy or if it’s a child, the family, caregivers and school personnel must be informed about noticing the symptoms and emergency treatments if required. Importance of emergency treatment should be emphasized.

-Family should be informed about emergency action plan and should be trained about how to use adrenalin automatic injector in case of severe reactions.

-Child with a food allergy should not accept any food from their friends, strangers or any place selling foods.

- Processed, frozen or packed foods may contain hidden food proteins so you should carefully read the labels and content while shopping. Foods served in restaurants may contain hidden food allergens as well. Therefore you should inquire the person preparing the food about the content.

What should be done at the day care center if my child has food allergy?

The most important step is informing all the personnel in the day care center about the condition of your child. Your doctor may write a special letter to be presented to them. This note may include the symptoms and what should be done when symptoms arise. All drugs should be readily available and personnel should know how to use them.

Try to make sure that your child will not accept foods offered by their friends.

Check the school menu every time the list is changed. Always check whether they contain any foods that cause allergy.

Do children outgrow food allergies?

Food allergies tend to improve both in children and adults. For this reason, tolerance tests should be made in regular intervals to check whether there is improvement or not. Milk, egg, wheat and soy allergies mostly improve over the years. However no recovery from allergies to dried fruits, fish and shellfish is expected...