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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.

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

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

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 or other food allergies 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 six 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 five.

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

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.

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

An allergic reaction can consist of one or more of the following:

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

ASCIA recommends that you should talk to your doctor or specialist about specific testing available for a food allergy. ASCIA also recommends that you should 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).

More information about the management of food allergies can be found at the ASCIA website

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 soya, are much more common.

Processed foods are more likely to contain additives and high levels of salt, sugar and fat. Therefore, it's best to avoid eating too many of these foods, and avoid giving these foods to your children.

Last reviewed: June 2018

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