The following measures can help lower the risk that food allergies will develop in infants and young children:
- Don’t introduce solid foods until 6 months of age.
- If possible, provide nutrition exclusively with breast milk for the first 6 months. Then continue to breastfeed as you add new foods to the diet until they are at least 1 year old.
- Introduce new foods in small portions and one at a time. Monitor for reactions for several days before introducing the next food.
- Wait to give a child cow’s milk until age 1 (to help prevent iron deficiency anemia).
For infants that have a family history of food allergies:
- If breastfeeding isn’t possible or is not providing sufficient calories, discuss the choice of formula with your child’s doctor.
- Do not introduce foods that commonly cause allergies, such as nuts, wheat, egg whites and fish, until you have spoken with your child’s doctor.
For older children who have developed allergies, the best way to avoid an allergic reaction is to avoid the food or foods that cause a reaction. Here are some steps you can take:
- Educate yourself so that you can recognize other forms or minor traces of the allergens in the foods your child eats. Read food labels (new labeling laws have made this easier) and ask questions when you eat in restaurants. If your child has a milk allergy, for example, avoid foods with ingredients that include casein, caseinate, whey or milk solids. And some foods, while they don’t contain peanuts, are manufactured on machines that also manufacture foods with peanuts, making them dangerous to allergic people.
- Educate your child about foods that must be avoided and why.
- Inform all adults who have contact with your child about the allergy and what to do in an emergency.
- Learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
- If your child has a history of severe reactions to certain foods, you and your child should carry epinephrine at all times and use it at the first sign of an allergic reaction. Epinephrine is usually given with an EpiPen; ask your doctor for several of them (so that you can leave one everywhere your child goes often, to be safe), and make sure that everyone who cares for your child knows how to use it.
- Make sure your child’s school or daycare is aware of the allergy. Even small amounts of peanut butter in a classroom or on a lunch table can be dangerous, for example. Many schools have peanut-free classrooms and lunch tables.
Content provided by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School (Howard Ezra Lewine, MD)