Even if your child doesn’t have food allergies, most parents know which foods most often ignite allergic reactions: nuts, wheat, eggs and milk.
But what do you do if you fear your child has a food allergy? Early exposure to highly allergenic foods like nuts or milk can either help or hinder the long-term effects of a food allergy.
“It’s a topic that even allergists (are) still trying to figure out,” said Dr. Summit Shah, a local allergy specialist. “We are not exposing our kids to as many different antigens as we were years ago. Immune systems are becoming more sensitive and we are seeing more food allergies.”
Peanuts and tree nuts are typically introduced into a child’s diet around the age of 2. But Shah recommends waiting if there is reason to believe an allergy is present. This includes a family history, like an older sibling who has an intolerance to the same food.
“If you have no family history, or haven’t been exposed, there is no reason to not introduce a certain food,” explained Shah.
Benefits to early exposure include the outgrowing of certain allergies. Young children may show signs of an allergy to milk or eggs, but their systems shed the allergy several years later. Others may be diagnosed with an allergy through testing, but remain asymptomatic.
“Research shows that if a child can still tolerate a food, continuing to expose kids to that food can help them,” said Shah.
But an early introduction and diagnosis of an allergy also could mean a development of an allergy to a similar product. Wait to incorporate tree nuts into a child’s diet if a peanut allergy is found at age 1 or 2. While it’s not the same with every food, said Shah, there is definitely an increased risk.
When it was determined that her 6-month-old son Stephen had a peanut allergy, Kelli Scott of Sugar Grove was advised to keep him away from all peanuts and tree nuts. The Scotts also were told that their son could not see an allergist until he was 3. While they were given wrong information (children may be seen prior to that), it forced them to be extremely careful about what Stephen ate.
Now 16, Stephen still has allergies to peanuts, walnuts, fish, avocados and bananas.
“His list used to be a lot longer, but some foods have come off the list,” said Scott. “Some of those foods can still only be eaten a little at a time, as in peas and soy.”
Dr. Roger Friedman, also a Central Ohio allergist, debunked the notion that decreasing or increasing exposure to foods can rid someone of an allergy but noted that other plans are in the works for treatment.
“Because allergies can be so severe,” said Friedman, “we’ve been trying to come up with a way to desensitize people to them. We’re on the cusp of getting treatment for food allergies.”