These days, parents have good reason to worry about allergic diseases, such as those induced by common food allergens. These diseases, which include atopic dermatitis and food allergies, have increased up to three-fold in recent decades and now affect about 20 percent of infants and young children.
However, even as these statistics have gone up, there is still a lack of sufficient awareness that atopic dermatitis or eczema could actually lead to the development of other allergies as children grow, says Dr. David Fleischer, associate professor of pediatrics and director of the Food Challenge Unit at Children’s Hospital Colorado of the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine.
All too often, parents are unsure about how to manage allergic reactions in their children. But with proper information, pediatricians and parents can reduce hospital visits of children due to allergy, improve kids’ quality of life, maximize school attendance, and decrease stress and worry within families.
Dr. Fleischer, the lead author of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) guidelines on allergy prevention through nutritional intervention, said there tends to be a lack of knowledge involving dietary and environmental approaches to prevent allergy in children. Information is not always up-to-date about data supporting the long-term effects of optimal nutrition in preventing infant allergy.
Dr. Fleisher emphasized that exclusive breastfeeding for at least four months, as against the use of cow’s milk formula, reduces the risk of atopic dermatitis for the first few years of life in children who are at high risk. Breastfeeding is the ideal way to nourish your infant, as it is least likely to trigger an allergic reaction, is easy to digest, and strengthens an infant’s immune system. Further, he said, compared with cow’s milk formula, partially-hydrolyzed whey formula or extensively-hydrolyzed casein formula can reduce the risk of atopic dermatitis in high-risk children.
In the past, it was suggested that if you avoided certain foods during pregnancy or breastfeeding, you could reduce your infant’s chances of developing allergies. However, more recent information indicates that there is no significant allergy prevention benefits to your baby if you avoid highly allergenic foods during this time.
The recommendations for timing the introduction of highly-allergenic foods, such as milk, egg, soy, peanut, wheat and fish, in an infant’s diet have also changed over the last decade. More recently, evidence has shown that there is no reason to delay introduction of the highly allergenic foods, as doing so may in fact increase your baby’s risk of developing allergies. Earlier introduction of such foods may actually prevent the development of food allergies.
Pediatricians may not always encourage dietary and environmental interventions to prevent allergy in children. Thus, Dr. Fleisher said, parents need to be educated about the following: 1. The protective benefits of breastfeeding; 2. The difference between hydrolyzed formula and cow’s milk formula; 3. A comparison between partially-hydrolyzed whey formula and extensively-hydrolyzed casein formula; 4. The long-term preventive effects of some formulas on allergic diseases, particularly atopic dermatitis; and 5. The timing of introduction of complementary foods, including the major food allergens.
In conclusion, keen observation of your infant, along with consultation with an allergist / immunologist, are the best way to manage allergies or prevent their development altogether.