A common fear parents have is not only worrying about their young children developing an allergy, but their children having a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction.
According to the Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH), an allergy develops when the immune system recognises and responds to something that is normally harmless.
An allergic reaction occurs when a child is exposed to an allergen and the body’s immune system reacts.
The reactions can vary in type and severity.
In 2014, the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) found that allergic diseases are among the fastest growing chronic conditions in Australia. Around 30 per cent of the population has an allergic disease and this number is growing.
Food allergies have increased significantly in the last twenty years with ten per cent of infants in Melbourne recording a confirmed food allergy, which is one of the highest incidences internationally.
“For the past 15 years, researchers have been actively investigating the dramatic increase in allergies to help us understand the cause,” explains Dr Joanne Smart, Paediatric Allergist Immunologist, Director of Department Allergy and Immunology at RCH and Epworth Allergy Specialists.
“It is probably multi-factorial and studies are underway that may help us understand how and why allergies start.”
One thing we know is that infant eczema is often the earliest manifestation of allergies.
“The Healthnuts study of 5,300 12-month-old Melbourne infants found 20 per cent had eczema and ten per cent had food allergies. Those are big numbers,” explains Dr Smart.
Infants with eczema are more likely to develop allergies later on.
Dr Smart explains that the progression of allergies starts with eczema and flows on to food allergies.
This can be followed by asthma, and hay fever develops when children are a bit older.
“Pollen allergy and hay fever are quite uncommon in under two-year-old children, as they need exposure to those allergens over a period of time for their body to cause a response,” she explains.
Symptoms to a food allergy reaction
According to Dr Smart, there are clear symptoms parents can be mindful of when it comes to food allergy reactions.
The first is the reaction is reproducible (it happens repeatedly).
“Every time the child is exposed to the food, they have a reaction,” she says.
“However, if your child does have an allergic reaction to a specific food, I don’t recommend continuously trying that food to see if they keep having a reaction.
“Instead, seek medical advice.”
Second, allergic reactions happen fairly quickly.
“Usually, a reaction will happen 15 to 30 minutes after the food is consumed,” she adds.
The reaction can appear as a skin rash which can be raised, welty or itchy.
Then, there can be swelling of the face, lips and eyes.
There can also be gastrointestinal symptoms like cramping or vomiting.
On the severe end, the breathing system can be impacted which is displayed as a cough, wheeze, hoarse voice or difficulty breathing.
Finally, the cardiovascular system can also be compromised, and children can become pale, dizzy or collapse.
“Infants who have a severe reaction can just become pale and floppy, while older children can be pale and look like they are about to faint,” Dr Smart adds.