Just A Bite:
All babies are at risk of developing a food allergy, but some of the most common high-risk factors and causes include eczema, delaying introduction of common allergens, presence of other food allergies, and a family history.
But by understanding the factors for developing an infant food allergy and taking some simple-yet-important steps, USDA guidelines suggest that introducing common allergens regularly can reduce the risk of your baby developing a food allergy!
The Whole Dish:
In the last 20 years, the prevalence of infant food allergies has increased by at least 50%. That’s one in 13 children -or roughly one in every classroom!
Affected by both genetic and environmental factors, a food allergy occurs when your child's immune system decides that a food is a "danger" to their health. Their immune system starts sending out immunoglobulin E (or IgE) antibodies that react to the food and cause an allergic reaction.
But what is most important to know is that babies aren’t typically born with food allergies - rather, they develop them over time.
That means all babies are at risk of developing a food allergy and why we’ve put together a list of the top 4 risk factors to be aware of.
Dry, broken skin is not just uncomfortable and itchy, but also leaves your little ones vulnerable. Often diagnosed as eczema or atopic dermatitis, this skin condition poses the biggest risk for developing an infant food allergy.
Research shows that babies with eczema can be over 600% more likely to develop a food allergy through topical exposure to invisible, ever-present food particles in the environment (like peanut dust).
And according to FARE, compared to children who don’t have food allergy, children with food allergy are two to four times as likely to have other allergic conditions, such as asthma or eczema.
But there are things you can do like creating a healthy skin barrier for your baby; this helps protect your baby's skin and helps reduce their food allergy risk.
Delaying introduction of allergenic foods does not provide protection against food allergy.
In fact, the Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP) study found that early introduction of peanut-containing foods reduced the risk of developing a peanut allergy by 86%.
That’s one reason why the new USDA Guidelines suggest that introducing common allergens regularly, like peanuts, egg, cow milk products, tree nuts, wheat, crustacean shellfish, fish, and soy, at 4-6 months can reduce the risk of your baby developing a food allergy - so don’t delay!
According to FARE about 40 percent of children with food allergies will be allergic to more than one food.
If your child has already developed an allergy to one type of food, or has other types of allergic reactions like hay fever or eczema, their risk of having another food allergy is greater, especially among related food types.
For example, if your child becomes allergic to cow’s milk, there is a higher chance they will be allergic to other mammal’s milk, like goats or sheep. Other high rates of cross-reactivity include crustacean shellfish, and tree nuts, such as walnuts with pecans.
However, just because two foods can be cross-reactive, it does not always mean you need to avoid the related food. Parents should discuss with the child’s allergist to craft a specific plan, taking into consideration the child’s age, any additional risk factors, any allergy testing results, and family preferences. This plan can mean avoiding the food or approaching introduction of related foods with caution.
Allergies, in general, tend to run in families, so if a parent, sibling, or other close relative has been diagnosed with a food allergy or another allergic condition like eczema or hay fever, your baby may have an increased risk.
Compared to those with no family history of allergic disease, children with two or more family members that have been diagnosed with a food allergy can be considered “high-risk” of developing a food allergy as well.
But, a presence, or lack of, family history with food allergies is not the only determining factor. Studies show that at least two out of every three children diagnosed with a food allergy do not have a parent with one.
By understanding the factors for developing an infant food allergy and taking some simple-yet-important steps - like taking good care of your baby’s skin and exposing them to potentially allergenic foods through the tummy - you can help get your baby's belly accustomed to common and diverse foods.
This is why it’s so important for parents to start feeding infants a diverse diet, including potential allergens, as early as 4-6 months and keep those foods in their diet every single day!
The Bottom Line: While there are many risk factors to consider, feeding your baby a diverse diet in the first year of life is associated with a lower risk of food allergies overall.