Hundreds of things you come into contact with every day may trigger allergies — tree pollen, dust, mold, insect droppings and even the contents of your refrigerator. Allergies can develop at any stage of life, but food allergies are more common in infants and children than they are in adults, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
Allergies are caused when the immune system attacks proteins that are found in organic substances such as pollens, pet dander and in various foods. Having mistakenly identified the protein as a harmful invader, the immune system produces immunoglobulin E, or IgE, antibodies. This, in turn, causes the cells to manufacture histamines as a measure of counter-attack. Histamines can cause a number of allergic symptoms that affect your baby’s nose, eyes, throat, skin or gastrointestinal tract, according to the Nemours Foundation. Allergies are extremely common; the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology indicates that more than half of all adults and children have allergies.
Eight foods are responsible for most food allergies in infants, children and adults: eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, shellfish, soy foods, nuts, and gluten or wheat, according to the Nemours Foundation. Young infants are particularly susceptible to milk allergies. Between 2 and 3 percent of babies are allergic to the protein found in cow’s milk and in baby formulas prepared with cow’s milk. The protein in egg whites, peanuts and other nuts also cause food allergies commonly seen in infants and children. Milk, eggs and nuts pose a unique problem for parents with babies graduating to solid foods because these are hidden ingredients in many commercially prepared food items.
Food Allergy Symptoms
Allergy symptoms can be mild or severe. Signs that indicate your infant is experiencing an allergic response may include hives — raised red welts on the body — wheezing, congestion, difficulty breathing, diarrhea, vomiting and swelling of the face, lips and tongue. A severe allergic response can result in anaphylaxis, which is characterized by a restricted airway, fast pulse, precipitous drop in blood pressure and sometimes coma or death, according to MayoClinic.com.
Most infants and children outgrow allergies to eggs, milk, wheat and soy by the age of 5, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Other food allergies linger on into adulthood, particularly allergies to peanuts, nuts and seafood. These foods are more likely to cause anaphylaxis.
Food allergies should not be confused with other health problems, such as food poisoning; diarrhea caused by the consumption of too much sugary fruit juice; or the skin rash that can result from the acids found in orange juice or tomato-based foods. Sensitivity to certain foods, preservatives and dyes is also not a true food allergy, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Lactose intolerance, often misidentified as a milk allergy because it causes diarrhea and stomach pain, occurs when your child lacks the enzyme needed to digest the sugars in milk. If you suspect that your baby suffers from food allergies, contact her pediatrician.