Food allergy prevention
A food allergy is a condition which occurs when your child’s immune system has an adverse response to a protein in a particular food. Food allergies are a growing concern, affecting millions of people worldwide. Allergic reactions to food can be life threatening, and it is therefore essential to take steps to prevent them.
Research into finding a cure for food allergies and stopping the development of food allergies is continually taking place. We have seen a substantial shift in our understanding of how to prevent food allergies. Recent evidence suggests that early introduction of allergenic foods to infants alongside other solid foods may help prevent the development of food allergies.
Common allergenic foods include peanut, tree nuts, sesame seed, milk, eggs, wheat, soya and shellfish allergy, but it is important to note that ANY food item can cause an allergic reaction.
Professor Helen Brough co-authored the landmark LEAP study (Learning Early About Peanut Allergy) and the EAT study (Enquiring About Tolerance) which showed that food allergies can be prevented by introducing solid foods into your child’s diet before 6 months of age, including introducing allergenic foods.
The LEAP study found that introducing peanuts to infants between 4-11 months of age reduced the risk of developing peanut allergies by 81%. This is a significant new finding, as previously it was thought that delaying the introduction of allergenic foods like peanuts could prevent allergies from developing.
Children with early onset eczema which began in the first 3 months of life, requiring prescribed steroid creams for their eczema, have a 50% chance of having peanut, egg or sesame seed allergy (HealthNuts study) by the time they are one year old so it is very important to try to prevent this.
However, if the child has eczema or already has an allergy to one food, parents may wish to screen their child for other food allergies prior to introduction.
At Children’s Allergy Doctors, we offer a comprehensive service, which includes eczema management, management of established food allergies, screening and prevention of food allergy. We provide written information on weaning and work closely with dietitians to support you through this process if you’re unsure about how to proceed. Every baby is different, and what works for one may not work for another.
Full guidance is available at the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology (http://www.bsaci.org/about/early-feeding-guidance).
Introducing Allergens To Your Baby
Here are some guidelines for safely introducing allergens to your baby to help with food allergy prevention:
- When to start: It’s recommended that you start introducing solid foods, including allergenic foods, when your baby is around 4–6 months old. This will help minimise the risk of developing allergies early on, and to identify any allergies early if any are present.
- Start with one allergen: When introducing allergens, start with one in very small amounts. Cow’s milk is a good starting point, less than a teaspoon to begin with, and then increase after a few days. If there is no reaction, you can safely include it three times a week in their regular diet.
- Next steps: Eggs are the next common allergen to try. A plain omelette is the easiest bet, but you could also try including eggs in foods like meatballs and potato cakes if they don’t like the texture. Please purée all foods (with vegetables or fruit) if your baby is between 4-6 months of age. Next, try a little salt and sugar-free smooth peanut butter mixed with vegetables, fruit or porridge.
Read more about introducing allergens in our news article: How to introduce allergens to your baby.
The manner in which the allergen is given is important, as raw egg causes significant reactions, whereas cooked egg appears to be better tolerated. Additionally, different food allergens have different windows of opportunity for introduction. For example, it is necessary to start egg and peanut consumption earlier than tree-nut consumption.
Signs of an allergic reaction: Only try allergens when your baby is healthy and when their skin is in good condition so that you can easily identify any reactions. It is important to remember that there are two types of allergic reactions: IgE mediated allergic reactions and Non-IgE mediated allergic reactions.
How Children’s Allergy Doctors can help…
At Children’s Allergy Doctors we can test to see if your child is already allergic to a food or ‘sensitised’ (which is when the allergy test is positive but we are not yet sure if they are allergic) and we can advise you on which foods can be safely introduced at home and which foods need to be introduced under supervision in the clinic in case of an allergic reaction.
We provide a supervised feed and food challenge service to be able to confirm whether your child is allergic to a food or not. Thereafter, we tailor a food introduction plan for your child with the aim to prevent the development of food allergy, based on the latest research. Even if your child is already allergic to one food, there may still be time to prevent them from developing allergies to other foods. Professor Helen Brough led the Pronuts study which evaluated the effect of introducing selective nuts into the diet in children already allergic to peanuts, tree nuts or sesame seeds.
We work closely with paediatric allergy dietitians to assist with recipes and advice for introducing these foods into the diet and provide written and verbal advice on how to perform this safely and incorporate this into your daily routine. With proper planning and a proactive approach, people with food allergies can lead a healthy life with minimal dietary and social restrictions.
If you have any further questions, please contact our practice team on 0203 146 7721 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
What parents say:
Extremely happy we chose to see Professor Brough with our 1 year old son. He has several allergies and her aim is to get him eating as much as we can. She is very proactive and reassuring.