What is a Food Allergy?

Hives and swelling and itchiness—oh my! Allergies of any kind evoke thoughts of swollen parts and oatmeal baths and plenty of discomfort, but let’s explore food allergies specifically.

A food allergy is when the body reacts to a food (usually ingested, but sometimes through skin contact or from airborne particles) as though it is an invader.1 The immune system will kick into high gear against this allergenic invader and release histamine to combat it; this release of histamine is what causes the uncomfortable hallmarks of an allergic reaction.1

Food Allergy Risk Factors for Infants

If the cause of an allergic reaction is the body’s response to an allergen, there must be allergy risk factors to consider. Here are the common allergy risk factors to consider for your infant:1, 2

  • A family history of allergies. Food allergies are, in part, genetic. If mom, dad, or a sibling suffers from allergies—not just food allergies—or has an allergic condition like eczema, hay fever, or asthma, infants are more likely to develop a food allergy.

  • Eczema. Infants who have eczema are more likely to have a food allergy.

  • Another known allergy has already surfaced. If your infant has displayed allergic reaction to other common allergens, the risk of developing food allergy is higher.

In some cases, itchiness of the mouth and throat when eating produce or nuts may be actually due to pollen allergy. This is called oral allergy syndrome or pollen-food syndrome and can be mitigated by cooking produce before serving it to your little one.2

Can Food Allergies in Infants be Prevented?

Parents spend plenty of time trying to prevent their little ones from discomfort and injury—of course you’ll want to find ways to prevent infant food allergies if possible. While you can’t erase food allergy risk factors entirely, there are some things that can be done to reduce the likelihood your infant will develop a food allergy:3, 4

  • Breastfeeding. Although newest expert guidelines did not include a benefit for exclusive breast feeding during the first 6 months against allergy risk, exclusive breast feeding for the first 6 months is associated with many health benefits and therefore is encouraged.

  • Earlier introduction of known food allergens. According to latest expert recommendations if your infant is at high risk of developing a food allergy based upon the above allergy risk factors, introducing allergy-causing foods around 6 months of life but not earlier than 4 months has been found to reduce risk of developing food allergies, specifically peanut and egg allergies.

If your infant is at risk of developing a food allergy, don’t despair: Most food allergies go away with age, especially if they appeared before the age of three.1 For more insight into food-related issues and allergies, explore the Allergy Centre.

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