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3 Ways To Prevent Allergies in Babies

Written by S.O.

Posted on March 4, 2015 at 6:27 pm

Photo by M Glasgow
Want the bite sized? Check out the infographic version of this post. Otherwise, read on.

Many parents were overjoyed when news broke recently that a study by researchers at King’s College London might have uncovered a promising treatment for peanut allergies in children. Though certainly counterintuitive, the researchers hypothesized that giving small amounts of peanut butter to babies at risk for peanut allergies later on in life actually reduced the expression of that allergy for a significant amount of those babies – around 80 percent of the over 600 babies involved in the study.

Obviously, this was surprising news, especially considering we don’t often think about using the substance in question to inoculate children against an allergy to it. Of course, we need to look no further than childhood vaccinations – which operate under the same principle – to find a comparable example.

In all this understandable exuberance, it is important to note that the medical community is recommending you do your first couple of peanut exposure tests in the presence of a doctor, just in cast the reaction is severe enough to cause your child real danger.

Brand new research aside, there are lots of things parents can do to help prevent allergies in their children, perhaps even before you introduce solid foods to your baby.

Before we run through some of the ways you can address your child’s allergies, let’s look at whom allergies affect, and generally how they are acquired.

Who is at risk?

Right up front, it is important to concede that scientists do not have a totally clear idea why humans have allergies. Certainly, research continues in this regard, but right now all we can say for certain is that exposure to certain allergenic proteins causes in some people an immune system response, typically inflammation due to immune system stimulation. Put plainly, an allergy is when antibodies incorrectly respond to non-threating proteins.

The most common cause of allergies is heredity. Look at it like this: If neither of your parents have allergies, your chances of developing them are about 1-in-10. Conversely, if one or both of your parents have allergies that figure jumps to around 7-in-10. In all, over 50 million Americans suffer from some form of allergy.

What are some common allergies?

Allergies come from several different sources. The most common non-food source seems to be tree and plant pollen. Oak, elm, birch and poplars, such as balsam and aspen, are the most common tree-derived allergens, while grasses and weeds such as hay, ragweed, sagebrush, and goosefoot pollen also are common sources. Dust mites and molds also cause their fair share of allergies. Further, smoking – including second-hand smoke – has also been linked to allergies and asthma, two conditions that often go hand in hand.

Foods, such as milk, fish, eggs, and soybeans are also commonly associated with allergies.

One allergy common to babies is atopic eczema, which often manifests as a rash on the cheeks, legs, and arms. As the child grows older, the rash may spread to the neck, behind the knees, and on the elbows. The condition often clears up by the time the child reaches adolescence.

3 Ways To Prevent Allergies

It should surprise no one that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has recommended parents stop smoking around children. Again, on top of a vast array of cardiovascular and organ disorders, the smoke rolling off the end of a lit cigarette has been causally linked to allergies in children.

Food is the most common allergy culprit, though. But unlike smoking, none of us can avoid eating. Yet, there are several ways to combat allergies, starting with food sensitization. This process, some experts say, begins in the womb.

Photo by Patrick Breen

1. Eating While Pregnant

Obviously, the food an expecting mother eats during pregnancy is the same stuff her offspring is getting. Hoping to avoid allergies in their children, one notion suggests mothers might avoid eating foods during pregnancy commonly associated with allergies, such as cow’s milk or soy products. This is called an avoidance diet, and plenty of expecting mothers have sworn by it over the years.

Unfortunately, there is no actual proof that avoidance diets during pregnancy have any discernable effect. In fact, some studies suggest it may have a negative effect, as it may increase other types of health risks associated with birth.

Another approach that has a bit more scientific backing is the idea that taking probiotic supplements during the final month of pregnancy may help prevent allergies in their children. The jury is still out as to the efficacy of that approach, although the latest research has uncovered some link between probiotics intake and preventing eczema. Researchers, though, are not sure whether or not mothers must continue to take probiotics after pregnancy for the treatment to be effective.

2.Your Baby’s Diet

Contrary to the early exposure to peanuts story referenced earlier, the prevailing wisdom suggests that when it’s first noticed an unfavorably reaction to certain foods is happening in your baby, caregivers should then limit the child’s exposure to those foods until they are older.

The best way to do that is to add foods slowly into your child’s diet, looking for situations where your baby reacts unfavorably to the introduction of that food. Allergies manifest in a variety of ways, although the most common include: Flushed skin, rash, hives, vomiting/diarrhea, wheezing or coughing, breathing difficulties, swollen face or tongue, and unconsciousness. These symptoms typically appear soon after the food is introduced – from a few minutes to a few hours after eating the food in question. So, a watchful eye during these times is critical.

The peanut example notwithstanding, experts suggest that caregivers hold off on introducing what are called the ‘8 allergenic foods’ – milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts (almonds, walnuts, and pecans), peanuts, wheat and soybeans – until at least eight months. The idea is that the even if the child has an allergy to a certain type of food, older babies are better able to handle the effects of the allergic reaction.

As an aside – many experts say caregivers should hold off introducing honey until around two years old, as it has been known to cause infant botulism.

3. Exposure To Pets

Pet danger is thought to be a major contributor to allergies as well. It goes without saying, though, that parents with allergies to certain pets probably won’t have those kinds of pets in their homes.

Experts recommend that if problems do arise, testing is warranted to see if it is the pet’s fault your child has allergies. Like food, limiting exposure to the animal until it is determined whether or not the pet is causing a negative response in your child is the smartest approach.

One thing to note, though: If your child has no reaction to pets in the house, there is no data to suggest allergies to those pets will develop later.


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