Do allergies run in your family? If so, you have plenty of company. Up to 50 million Americans, millions of them kids, are allergic to something.
When a person has an allergy, his or her body reacts to a substance that's harmless to most people. The body releases chemicals to defend against the allergen "invader." These chemicals cause allergy symptoms, such as sneezing, itchy nose, throat irritation, nasal congestion and coughing. Some common allergens are dust mites, insect venom, medicines, molds, pollen and pets.
In babies, the type of allergies you hear about most commonly are food allergies. About 4 out of every 100 children have a food allergy. When a person is allergic to a food, the body overreacts as if the food were harmful. A person can be allergic to any food, but interestingly, almost all food allergies in children are caused by the following worst offenders.
— Cow's milk (between 2% and 5% of infants are allergic to the proteins found in cow's milk).
— Eggs (most kids outgrow egg allergies by the time they start kindergarten).
— Peanuts (along with tree nuts, peanuts cause some of the most severe food-related allergies).
— Soy (up to 30% of babies who are allergic to cow's milk are also allergic to soy milk).
— Tree nuts (these include almonds, pecans and walnuts).
Children who are allergic to cow's milk, eggs, soy or wheat usually outgrow the condition. But children who are allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, fish or shellfish usually remain so for life.
Here's what our Mommy M.D.s — doctors who are also mothers — do to watch for food allergies in their own kids.
"Food allergies run in my family, and when my son was a baby, I was very concerned he might develop them," says Sharon Giese, M.D., a mom of one son and a cosmetic plastic surgeon in private practice in New York City. "I took the recommendations about when to introduce which foods very seriously. For example, I waited to give my son shellfish and nuts until he was 3 years old. As an extra precaution, I asked my son's pediatrician for a prescription for an EpiPen. I took it with us, especially when we traveled away from home. This might not be practical for all parents, but all parents should learn the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction."
"My older daughter has food allergies," says Robyn Liu, M.D., a mom of two daughters and a family physician with Kaiser Permanente in Portland, Oregon. "Our first clue that she had them was when we were on vacation in Taiwan. We had gone to a restaurant, and I had ordered a stew with little cubes of tofu in it. I gave a cube to my daughter, and she loved it, so I gave her a bunch of them.
"The next morning, my daughter started vomiting, and her face broke out in hives," Liu continues. "She was miserable. We had no idea what had caused it — until later when we learned those tofu cubes had crabmeat mixed into them. We had unwittingly been feeding her tons of shellfish! Over the next year-and-a-half, my daughter had a few episodes like this, usually after eating in restaurants. When she was 3 years old, we took her to an allergist for testing and discovered that she was allergic to peanuts and fish."
"Every pregnant woman is told to drink lots of milk," says Cathie Lippman, M.D., a mom of two grown sons and a physician who specializes in environmental and preventive medicine at the Lippman Center for Optimal Health in Beverly Hills, California. "I followed this advice, and I continued to drink milk as I breastfed my baby. I also ate a lot of frozen yogurt.
"When my son was old enough to eat solids, I gave him some yogurt, and he immediately became hoarse," Lippman continues. "He had developed a sensitivity to dairy foods, having been exposed to them so much in utero. That's when I started to learn more about clinical ecology, which is now called environmental medicine, which suggests that any symptom might be a result of a sensitivity or intolerance to a food, chemical or something else in the environment. I took my son off all dairy foods for two years, and now he can eat them without any difficulty."
"The biggest challenge I had during my son's first year was his nonstop crying spells," says Saundra Dalton-Smith, M.D., a mom of two, an internal medicine specialist and the author of "Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity" in Anniston, Alabama. "He had gotten multiple diagnoses, from colic to gastroesophageal reflux to possible food allergies. I was breastfeeding, so changing my son's 'formula' was not an option. After trying multiple medications for colic and reflux, I finally decided to take a more drastic approach. I put myself on an elimination diet, avoiding all of the common allergens — dairy, nuts, corn, wheat, soy and shellfish.
"Once these foods were eliminated from my diet, all of my son's crying stopped," Dalton-Smith continues. "Over the course of a few weeks, I slowly added back each of the eliminated foods. My son's crying returned when I added wheat and dairy products. I completely removed these two items from my diet for the remainder of my time nursing. Breastfeeding was much easier with a calm baby whose tummy was not gassy. I definitely missed eating wheat and dairy foods, but I found some great alternative products at the supermarket. My son outgrew his wheat allergy within a year, but the dairy allergy lasted until he was 5. During the time of my son's allergies, he would get a rash within 30 minutes of eating anything with dairy in it. I would treat his symptoms with liquid diphenhydramine (children's Benadryl), at an age- and weight-appropriate dosage."
When to Call Your Doctor
If your baby has a food allergy, introduce new foods very carefully. It's best to try new foods in the morning so you can watch your baby all day for signs of an allergic reaction. Be on the lookout for the following signs and symptoms, and call your doctor if you see any of them.
— Hives (itchy, red welts on the skin).
— Swelling of the tongue, lips, face or any other area of the body.
— Trouble breathing or wheezing.
If your baby has trouble breathing, call 911, or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.
Jennifer Bright is a mom of four sons, co-founder and CEO of family- and veteran- owned custom publisher Momosa Publishing, co-founder of the Mommy MD Guides team of 150+ mommy M.D.s, and co-author of "The Mommy MD Guide to the Toddler Years." She lives in Hellertown, Pennsylvania. To find out more about Jennifer Bright and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: heecehil at Pixabay