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Peanut allergy can cause a serious reaction in children.

Peanut allergy can cause a serious reaction in children.
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Food allergies in children

4-minute read

Babies are more likely to develop allergies if there's a history of eczema, asthma, hay fever or food allergies (known together as 'atopy') in the family.

If you think your child is having an allergic reaction to a food, seek medical advice urgently as symptoms can worsen rapidly. If breathing is affected, call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

Critical shortage of EpiPen Jr Adrenaline (epinephrine)

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has issued an alert that stock of EpiPen Jr has run out in Australia. For more information on this supply shortage and the latest updates, see TGA's alert on EpiPen Jr.

The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) has practical health information and advice. Call triple zero (000) early if you think someone is having a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis).

Introducing allergens

It's recommended that when your infant is ready, at around 6 months (but not before 4 months), introduce a variety of solid foods, starting with iron-rich foods, while continuing breastfeeding. Hydrolysed (partially and extensively) infant formula is not recommended for the prevention of allergies.

When you start introducing solids (weaning), introduce the foods that commonly cause allergies one at a time so that you can spot any reactions. Don’t delay introducing a food just because it’s considered a common allergen. These foods include: milk, eggs, wheat, nuts, seeds, fish and shellfish. However, don't introduce any of these foods before 6 months.

There is evidence that infants should be given allergenic solid foods including peanut butter, cooked egg and dairy and wheat products in the first year of life. This includes infants at high risk of allergy.

Don’t be tempted to experiment by cutting out a major food, such as milk, as this could lead to your child not getting the nutrients they need. Talk to your doctor, who may refer you to a registered dietitian.

Peanut allergy

Your child has a higher risk of developing a peanut allergy if they already have a known allergy (such as eczema or a diagnosed food allergy), or there's a history of allergy in their immediate family (such as asthma, eczema or hay fever).

There is evidence that having peanuts regularly before 12 months can reduce the risk of developing peanut allergy. If your child already has an egg allergy, another food allergy or severe eczema, talk to your doctor before you give peanuts or food containing peanuts to your child for the first time.

If you would like to eat peanuts or foods containing peanuts (such as peanut butter) while breastfeeding, you can do so unless you're allergic to them or your health professional advises you not to.

Avoid giving your child peanuts and foods containing peanuts before the age of 6 months. Foods containing peanuts include peanut butter, peanut (groundnut) oil and some snacks. Small children are at a higher risk of choking on small objects, so avoid giving whole peanuts or nuts to children under age 5-years-old.

Read food labels carefully and avoid foods if you're not sure whether they contain peanuts.

Food additives

Food contains additives for a variety of reasons, such as to preserve it, to help make it safe to eat for longer and to give colour or texture.

All food additives go through rigorous assessments for safety before they can be used. Food labelling must clearly show additives in the list of ingredients, including their name or number and their function, such as 'colouring' or 'preservative'.

A few people have adverse reactions to some food additives, but reactions to ordinary foods, such as milk or soy, are much more common.

How will I know if my child has a food allergy?

Signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction can include:

  • diarrhoea
  • vomiting
  • cough
  • wheezing and shortness of breath
  • itchy throat and tongue
  • rash or itchy skin
  • swollen lips and throat
  • runny or blocked nose
  • sore, red and itchy eyes

The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) recommends talking to your doctor or specialist about the specific testing available for a food allergy. ASCIA also recommends that you speak to your doctor or specialist about the benefits and safety of allergen immunotherapy before commencing any treatment for a food allergy.

For further information about ASCIA's recommendations, visit the Choosing Wisely Australia website.

In a few cases, foods can cause a very severe reaction (anaphylaxis) that can be life-threatening. If you think your child is having an allergic reaction to a food, seek medical advice urgently as symptoms can worsen rapidly. If breathing is affected, call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

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Last reviewed: June 2018


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