Allergic Reactions in Babies
An allergic reaction can be a worrying thing at the best of times but if you think your baby might have an allergy, you’ll need to know exactly what to do.
What is an Allergy?An allergy is an immune system response. When a particular substance – known as an allergen - is inhaled, injected, eaten or touched, the immune system releases histamines and other chemicals that result in a cascade of symptoms such as an itchy, blocked or runny nose, a sore throat, rashes or diarrhoea, amongst other things.
When to Call for Medical HelpIf your baby is having trouble breathing, is panting, pale or cold, seems disoriented or has a rapid pulse, call your GP or the emergency services immediately.
Allergic Parents and their BabiesIt’s true that allergies often seem to run in families. But although the tendency to be allergic is often inherited, the things family members are allergic to can vary widely. You might get hay fever and your partner might be allergic to bee stings, but your child might not suffer with either of these things, although they could well have a dairy allergy. Equally, if you have more than one child, they might all have different allergies – or none at all, of course.
Breastfeeding your baby until he or she is six months old helps to reduce the likelihood of allergies in the early years. But if you are breastfeeding, avoid eating any foods that are likely allergens, such as nuts, dairy products or shellfish.
How to tell if your Baby has an AllergyEczema and hay fever can usually be easily diagnosed. But babies can develop allergies to almost anything, from dogs to dust and dairy products, and it can be difficult pin down the exact nature of the allergen. Never attempt to do this yourself, but be sure to talk to your doctor, who will refer you to a specialist if your baby’s symptoms are severe.
Sometimes babies wheeze when they get a cold, but this isn't a sign of allergy, and most babies grow out of it. As your child reaches the age of about three, and if he or she is wheezing even when otherwise healthy, talk to your GP about it. You should also check with your doctor if new symptoms develop or if symptoms get worse.
Allergy Testing for BabiesYour medical team might recommend that you keep a diary of your child’s symptoms as a first step towards tracking down the allergen. The doctor might recommend carrying out a skin pinprick test to determine the cause of your baby’s allergy. These are especially good for detecting the cause of allergic contact eczema, but can be unreliable in babies less than a year and a half old.
Treating Allergic Reactions in BabiesWhen it comes to medication, antihistamines and steroids can sometimes be appropriate, and your doctor will advise you if this is the right course for you baby. But the simplest and best way prevent the symptoms of allergy is to avoid contact with the allergen.
If your baby is allergic to pollen, keep doors and windows closed when the pollen count is high and avoid going outside if you can. Bathe your baby frequently, especially after coming in from outdoors.
Keep your baby's room as dust-free as possible. It’s not dust that’s the allergen, but dust mite droppings. So washing bedding and curtains frequently, investing in a high quality vacuum cleaner, and popping comfort blankets and soft toys in the freezer now and then can help. Of course, it’s impossible to live in a permanently dust-free house, but opening the windows frequently, replacing carpets with wooden floors, and switching curtains for blinds can all make life less comfortable for the dust mite.
Food Allergies and BabiesThe symptoms of a true food allergy are particularly unpleasant. They include a rash, wheezing and swelling of the lips and tongue. These symptoms will usually appear within an hour of eating, or sometimes just touching, the allergen.
If you think your baby may be allergic to a certain food, talk to your doctor, who might refer you to a specialist, or run some tests. Don’t forget, if you are in any doubt about the severity of an allergic reaction, or if your baby is having any difficulty breathing, or has a rapid pulse, call for medical help without delay.
Babies can also have food intolerances. These are different from a true allergy. Symptoms of food intolerance often affect the digestive system and can include tummy pain, bloating, excess wind and diarrhoea. If you think your baby might have a food intolerance, your doctor could refer you to a dietician, who might suggest putting your child on an exclusion diet. This means that suspect foods are removed completely from the diet before being reintroduced one at a time. This helps to pinpoint exactly which foods are causing the problem.
If your baby is fed on formula milk and develops an intolerance or an allergy to dairy products, your doctor might advise switching to a Soya-based formula. Never radically change your baby’s diet in this way without talking it through with your medical team.