A New Look at Food Allergies

We know that the tendency to be allergic is hereditary. However, we are not sure about what other factors determine whether a person will develop a specific type of food allergy. Recent research has shed some light on the causes and what we can do if anything, to prevent an allergy from developing in the first place. However, I first want to discuss what a food allergy is. An allergy is the body’s reaction to a certain substance. This substance can enter the body by ingestion, breathing it in or touching the skin. An allergic reaction is caused by the body’s immune (defense system). The most common foods that cause allergies are:

  • Cow’s milk(the most common food allergy in young children)
  • Soya
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Nuts
  • Wheat
  • Seafood

Changed Approach

In the past, we recommended waiting until babies were older than one year before feeding them certain highly allergenic foods, like eggs, fish, or berries, especially if there was a family history of allergies. In some cases, we waited until the age of 4 years.  This practice was related to the belief then, that the earlier a child was exposed to a food, the higher the chance of developing an allergy. This approach has now changed as new studies demonstrate that introducing these foods to children under the age of one does not increase their chance to become allergic to them. Current expert recommendations state that these allergenic foods can be given to babies before their first birthday. Even more recently, a review of studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (September 20, 2016), suggested that early egg or peanut introduction to the infant diet was associated with lower risk of developing egg or peanut allergy.  The authors of this article state that this is not a definitive conclusion and that this area needs further study.

All in all, one thing is clear: Our previous approach of not introducing potentially allergenic foods early is no longer recommended. However, the question of the benefit of deliberate early introduction of these foods to prevent allergies is still up for debate. From a practical point of view, parents do not need to worry about the timing of the introduction of such foods. In fact, with our past practice of delaying these foods, some parents would actually be stressed about ensuring their babies were not exposed to these foods before a certain age. With our new approach, this is not an issue and parents can be more relaxed.  Note that if there is significant family history of food allergies, particularly to peanuts or shellfish, or if a child has a previous history of food allergies, some pediatricians may still recommend not introducing these foods during the first year and perhaps would even suggest waiting longer. If this is your case, please speak to your healthcare provider or allergist about the timing of introduction of specific foods.

On a final note, even though introducing peanuts or nuts early on in life may not alter a child’s chance of developing an allergy, these foods can choke a young child. Consequently peanuts, nuts, or any type of food that is a potential choking hazard should not be given to young children.

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Pediatrician DR.PAUL Roumeliotis is certified by the American Board of Pediatrics and Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. The information provided above is designed to be an educational aid only. It is not intended to replace the advice and care of your child’s physician, nor is it intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment. If you suspect that your child has a medical condition always consult a physician.