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Ask a Doc: Can I do anything to ensure my newborn doesn't develop allergies?

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An allergist from The University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix answers the common question: Is there anything parents can do to help their newborns avoid developing allergies? An allergist from The University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix answers the common question: Is there anything parents can do to help their newborns avoid developing allergies?
Jar of peanut butter with nuts. Credit: Getty Images Jar of peanut butter with nuts. Credit: Getty Images
toddler and asthma toddler and asthma

Children can develop allergies at any age. The earliest sign of allergic disease is atopic dermatitis, or eczema. Eczema can begin in the first few months of life, and is a risk factor for developing food allergies. Allergic rhinitis, commonly known as hay fever, and asthma can develop in children as early as two years old.

Allergy development by age

Allergic reactions to foods can begin in the first year of life, typically after solid foods have been introduced. Symptoms of a food reaction may include skin redness, swelling, hives, runny nose or sneezing. Severe symptoms may include throat swelling, difficulty breathing, wheezing, vomiting or diarrhea.

The highest prevalence of food allergies are seen in children younger than five.

Egg and milk allergies are mostly seen in young children. Peanut, tree nut, fish and shellfish allergies are common in children and adults.

Does breastfeeding make a difference?

Some medical literature has found that exclusively breastfeeding during the first four to six months of life may decrease your baby's risk of developing eczema, asthma and cow's milk allergy.

It is not recommended that you avoid allergenic foods while breastfeeding your baby. In fact, there are studies that suggest eating these foods while lactating may actually prevent allergic diseases. Highly allergenic foods include cow's milk, eggs, peanut, tree nuts, soy, wheat, shellfish and fish.

Most children are developmentally ready to start eating solid foods between four and six months. Recent studies have shown that introducing highly allergenic foods then can actually help prevent food allergies.

This is in contrast to previous recommendations that advised delaying the introduction of those foods until after 12 months.

It is helpful to introduce foods one at a time, so that a trigger food can be identified should a reaction occur.

It is especially important to introduce highly allergenic foods in high-risk children, for example, those with a history of moderate-to-severe eczema, a prior allergic reaction and a family history of allergies. If your baby is at high risk, you should talk with your doctor or see an allergy specialist before introducing highly allergenic foods.

Chris Couch, MD is an allergist at Allergy Asthma Clinic, LTD and a Clinical Assistant Professor at The University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Couch, call 602-277-3337. . For more information visit www.allergyasthmaclinicltd.com

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