Since May is Food Allergy Action Month, we asked Dr. Katie Marks-Cogan, board-certified allergist and Chief Allergist for Ready, Set, Food!, to answer your most-asked questions about childhood food allergies and early allergen introduction.
FAQ #1: Childhood food allergies seem to have increased dramatically since my childhood. Why is that?
Yes, food allergies are on the rise, with nearly 6 million children under 18 — more than 1 in 13 children — suffering from a food allergy today. We don’t know for sure why the number of food allergies keeps increasing, but theories for this troubling trend include:
- Food Allergen Avoidance – Previously, parents were encouraged to avoid feeding their child allergenic foods during their child’s first year of life. However, food allergen avoidance is now considered a risk factor for food allergy development, and early allergen introduction is now encouraged.
- The Hygiene Hypothesis – Research indicates that the lack of exposure to germs and/or allergens can skew a child’s immune system towards the development of a food allergy.
- Vitamin D Insufficiency – Some studies suggest that infants with low Vitamin D levels are more likely to develop allergies to egg or peanut.
- The Dual Allergen Exposure Hypothesis – Multiple studies suggest that early low dose exposure to allergens through damaged skin can actually promote allergy, while early high dose oral exposure can promote tolerance.
FAQ #2: If my baby or toddler is allergic to something, what type of reaction should I be looking for?
In babies, hives and vomiting are the most common symptoms of a food allergic reaction. These symptoms usually occur within seconds to minutes and almost always within 2 hours. In addition, one reaction can vary widely from the next in the same person. One cannot predict what type of reaction a person will have each time they eat a food that they are allergic to. Food allergies are most common in children, but a food allergy can occur at any age.
Severe symptoms of a food allergy include shortness of breath; trouble swallowing; chest pain; fainting; and loss of consciousness. If an allergic reaction involves severe symptoms in more than one organ system, it is classified as anaphylaxis, which can be life-threatening.
If your child has an allergic reaction, it is important to stop feeding them that particular food and seek immediate medical advice from your pediatrician or allergist.
FAQ #3: What are the most common allergenic foods?
The top eight, most common food allergens are: milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish. These comprise 90% of all food allergies. However, milk, egg and peanut represent the vast majority of food allergies in young children at ~80%. And about 30-40% of children with food allergies are allergic to more than one food.
FAQ #4: Why can’t I just give my baby peanut butter, eggs and milk every so often, to reduce their food allergy risk?
You can do early allergen introduction yourself, but this can be difficult, especially if your baby is not ready for solid food. The new clinical guidelines from the NIH and AAP recommend introducing allergenic foods as early as 4-6 months of age, based on results from landmark clinical studies. However, most babies are not yet ready for solid foods until after 6 months of age. Plus, in the landmark studies, babies were introduced to allergenic foods 2-7 times a week, for at least several months. Introducing these foods only once or twice, or every so often, is not enough to help reduce your baby’s food allergy risk.
Measuring out the correct doses of these foods, and getting a picky infant to eat them frequently enough, can be time-consuming and frustrating. I’ve experienced these difficulties firsthand with my own son, David. When David was 5 months old, I prepared egg, peanut, and yogurt snacks for him to eat several times each week. However, most of what I offered him to eat ended up either on his face or on my kitchen floor—everywhere but his mouth.
FAQ #5: Many parents are confused about how to introduce key allergenic foods by 4-6 months when their babies may not be ready for solids at that age. Can you shed some light?
My frustrating experience with introducing my son to allergenic foods inspired me to find a solution to the challenges of early, sustained allergen introduction. Along with a team of fellow allergists, physicians and parents, I helped develop Ready, Set, Food!. After over a year of research and development, we’re proud to offer this all-natural allergen introduction system to families like yours, to help reduce babies’ risk of developing common food allergies by up to 80%.
Ready, Set, Food!’s pre-measured system safely introduces your baby to peanut, egg, and milk in the exact amounts and frequencies used in the landmark clinical studies. It easily dissolves into your baby’s bottle of breastmilk, formula (or their puree), making allergen introduction simple, even if your baby is not ready for solids. Plus, it’s fully organic and non-GMO, with no artificial additives, so you can feel confident about feeding it to your baby. Ready, Set, Food! is now recommended by over 250 pediatricians and allergists in their practices. Easily mix it in to your Square Baby food to help reduce your little one’s risk of developing common food allergies!
And, in observance of Food Allergy Action Month this May, we’ve created a special offer just for Square Baby families for $15 off any Ready, Set, Food! subscription (promo code: SQUAREBABYFAM).
To learn more about how Ready, Set, Food! makes early and sustained allergen introduction easy, and to take advantage of this exclusive offer, visit the Ready, Set, Food! website here.