Starting your baby on solid foods is an exciting time for a parent, but it can also be a little nerve-wracking. New foods have the potential to trigger allergic reactions, which can range from mild to severe. Since your baby can't speak up and tell you when something's wrong, you'll want to be aware of the many signs of food allergies to look out for.
If you think that you're hearing a lot more about food allergies these days than you did when you were a kid, it's not your imagination. "Data shows that childhood food allergies have become increasingly common in recent decades," says Dr. Thomas Casale, the Chief Medical Advisor to Food Allergy Research & Education, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about food allergies. If you're worried your child might have one, it's something you'll want to address as soon as possible. "Suspected food allergies should always be evaluated, diagnosed and treated by a qualified medical professional, such as a board-certified allergist," Casale tells Romper via email. "Do not diagnose a food allergy on your own. Self-diagnosis can lead to unnecessary dietary restrictions and inadequate nutrition, especially in children."
There are eight common allergy culprits, according to Kids Health: milk, soy, eggs, wheat, tree nuts, peanuts, fish, and shellfish. It may seem counterintuitive, but it's generally advisable to introduce these foods sooner rather than later, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI). The AAAAI noted that delaying the introduction of possible allergens might actually make your child more likely to develop an allergy. Somewhere around 4 to 6 months, you can start introducing new foods one at a time every couple of days. That way, if a reaction happens, you'll be able to tell which food caused the problem. But of course, always discuss your plans with your child's pediatrician first.
Keep in mind that an allergic reaction might not be immediately obvious. Dr. Casale notes that these seven symptoms could appear anywhere from minutes to hours after trying a food. People can also react differently at different times and "even if the worst seems to have passed, a second wave of serious symptoms can happen," according to KidsHealth, so it's important to seek medical attention as soon as you notice symptoms, especially if "the symptoms involve two different parts of the body, like hives with vomiting," they explain. Dealing with food allergies can be a scary situation, especially if it is your first time. Here are some signs to watch for, and remember, you got this.
1. Skin Changes
Skin changes can be one of the most noticeable signs of food allergies. Dr. Casale says there's a lengthy list of changes to watch out for, including hives, eczema flare ups, and any redness of the skin, particularly around the mouth or eyes.
2. Stomach Problems
When your little one eats a food that they're allergic to, it could upset their digestive system in some major ways. Any sort of nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal pain are all red flags, according to Casale.
3. Cold-Like Symptoms
Nasal congestion or a runny nose, sneezing, or a mild cough don't necessarily mean a cold is coming on. According to Dr. Casale, they can all also be signs of a food allergy.
4. Unusual Behaviors
Some babies always have their hands in their mouth chewing on their little fingers, but the behavior can also be a symptom of an allergy. In the case of a bad reaction, it could also be accompanied by pulling or scratching at their tongue, and their voice becoming hoarse or squeaky.
If a baby is crankier than normal after a new food, keep a close eye on it. "Fussiness can be a symptom of any condition that makes a baby uncomfortable, including the mild to moderate food allergy symptoms listed above," says Dr. Casale.
6. Swelling Around The Mouth
An allergic reaction can cause a little one's lips, tongue, or throat to swell up, says Dr. Casale. If it's bad enough, it can block their airway.
7. Trouble Breathing
The most severe allergic reactions can be life-threatening. If your child seems to be having trouble breathing, turns blue, or loses consciousness, you'll want to get medical attention right away — these can all be signs of anaphylaxis, according to Go Health Urgent Care, an extremely severe type of reaction. Thankfully, it's not super common — only about one in 50 Americans will experience it, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
Food allergies can be scary to deal with, but there's one piece of good news for parents to keep in mind. If your child does have one, Dr. Casale say there's reason to believe they won't have it forever. He shared details of a 2013 survey which found that about a quarter of kids with food allergies ultimately outgrew them by about 5 years old. "Children were more likely to outgrow milk, egg or soy allergies and less likely to outgrow shellfish, tree nut and peanut allergies, Casale said. "Having a mild to moderate reaction history improved the odds of outgrowing an allergy, as did having only one food allergy."