It can be difficult to recognise the signs of a food allergy in a baby or a young child. Severe allergic reactions to food are rare in very young children so diagnosing a food allergy can take time. There are some risk factors that can indicate whether or not a baby is likely to have a food allergy.
One indicator is family history. If there is a person with a food allergy in the immediate family (parent or sibling), there is a small increase in the likelihood of having a food allergy. If there are two people with food allergies in the immediate family, then the likelihood increases.
Another indicator is eczema. A baby who has eczema is more likely to have a food allergy. The risk is greater when the eczema is severe.
Sometimes it’s easy to see the signs of a food allergy in a baby or young child. They can have reactions right after the food is eaten. Severe symptoms are not as common in younger children. They are more likely to suffer milder symptoms such as:
- Flushed face, hives, itchy red rash on tongue, mouth or around the eyes.
- Mild swelling on face, around the lips and mouth.
- Stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea.
- Blocked nose or runny nose, watery eyes and sneezing.
- Scratchy or itchy throat and mouth.
The more severe symptoms are uncommon in very young children, but you should seek medical attention if they experience any:
- Wheezing or difficulty breathing.
- Swelling of the airways (noticeable by a change in their voice, noisy breathing, or cough).
- Dizziness, confusion, or loss of consciousness.
If your baby does experience any allergic symptoms after eating a food, you should avoid it until you have taken them to see a doctor.
Delayed allergic symptoms
Delayed symptoms can be a problem in diagnosing food allergies in young children. Delayed symptoms occur when the food triggers a slower acting part of the immune system. It can cause symptoms such as eczema, colic, reflux, constipation or diarrhoea and poor physical growth. An allergy to eggs, soy, milk or wheat commonly cause delayed symptoms.
As these symptoms are common childhood illnesses, they are not indicative of a food allergy themselves. This means that diagnosis can be slow. If you suspect that a food allergy is causing the symptoms, it can be helpful to keep a food diary for your child or for yourself if you are breastfeeding. A food diary can show patterns in the foods that you are eating and the symptom’s occurrence.
Food allergies have a significant impact on families (see our previous blog “Food allergies and anxiety”), and it’s easy and common to misdiagnose and allergy in your child or in yourself. If you think you recognise the signs of a food allergy in your baby, it’s wise to visit your doctor to have your suspicions confirmed.
Disclaimer: The information provided is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Allergy Lifestyle Limited (t/a) Allergy Lifestyle) uses reasonable endeavours to check the accuracy of information provided however no warranty is given that they are error-free.