Food allergies are a response from the body when it is exposed to a particular food. While food intolerances can cause similar symptoms, they don't affect the immune system. It is this immune response that can lead to life-threatening complications in some cases.

Knowing how to recognize the signs of an allergic reaction, which foods are most likely to create a reaction, and how to minimize your child's risks can help you introduce solid food to your baby with confidence.

Most Common Allergens

Eight foods are responsible for 90 percent of food allergies: eggs, peanuts, and milk, predominantly, followed by tree nuts, soy, fish, shellfish, and wheat. The foods most likely to cause a severe reaction are shellfish, fish, tree nuts, and peanuts.

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Who Gets Food Allergies?

Almost 5 percent of children five and under have some type of food allergy. The good news is that many children outgrow them. However, allergies to peanuts, fish, shellfish, and tree nuts are likely to be permanent.

Children must be sensitized to an allergen before showing a reaction, so it isn't uncommon for a baby not to have a reaction until they have eaten a food a few times. Babies can be sensitized to foods through breastmilk, so your baby may also have an allergic reaction from what you think is their first exposure to a food.

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Symptoms of Baby Food Allergies

Symptoms that your baby has ingested something they are allergic to include hives, trouble breathing, itching in the mouth, stomach pains, diarrhea, and vomiting. Skin issues such as eczema can also be the result of exposure to allergens. In fact, eczema is a common marker of allergies before a baby is diagnosed as experiencing an allergic reaction.

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What To Do If Your Child Experiences an Allergic Reaction

Nearly 40 percent of children who have a food allergy will experience a severe reaction. Knowing what to do in this case is important. A severe allergic reaction, one where your child is vomiting or struggling to breathe, is a medical emergency. Call 911.

For milder reactions, such as hives or discomfort from stomach pain, stop feeding the food you believe is responsible and contact your pediatrician.

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Safely Introducing Solids

Wait until your baby is at least four months old to introduce solids. It is fine to offer your baby foods that may be allergenic, but keep watch for symptoms. A family history of asthma, eczema, or allergies increases the odds that your child will be allergic as well.

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Don't Be Afraid To Expand the Diet

Traditional wisdom called for holding back on foods that were highly allergenic until a baby was older, and even for moms to avoid potential problem foods while pregnant and breastfeeding. That is no longer the recommendation. Instead, studies indicate that introducing these foods earlier rather than later can lower the risk of a child developing food allergies.

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But Take Your Time

While you don't need to avoid any particular food, you should introduce new foods slowly. Add only one new food at a time. Don't introduce a new food more than every three days.

Keep track of each new food as well as any unusual symptoms your baby experiences. Crankiness may have nothing to do with introducing milk to the diet, for example, or it may be a result of an upset stomach. Keeping track of foods and reactions allows you to make connections that you otherwise wouldn't.

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Milk and Soy Allergies

Allergies to milk and soy can be particularly challenging for parents of formula-fed babies. It can be difficult to find a formula that the baby finds palatable and that doesn't cause an allergic reaction.

Allergies to milk and soy often present with different symptoms than other food allergies. Rather than hives and trouble breathing, the baby may be colicky and have a poor growth rate.

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Medication Can Trigger Allergies

Disturbances in the microbiome of the digestive system can affect how a child responds to certain foods. In one study, researchers found that babies who received antacids during their first two years were twice as likely to have food allergies as those who didn't. They were also more likely to have other types of allergies, such as hay fever. Antacids can be valuable for a baby who experiences reflux or other feeding problems, but work with your doctor to prevent overuse.

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Food Allergies Are Unpredictable

Don't think that a mild allergic reaction means that the food is safe for your baby. While the symptoms will not necessarily get worse with each trigger, it is possible that a reaction will be extremely mild one time and life-threatening the next. Once your child has an allergic reaction, talk to their pediatrician to see if they recommend an epinephrine injector.

Also discuss with your pediatrician whether you should re-introduce the food later. For commonly outgrown allergies, your child's pediatrician may recommend trying again as they get older. Many egg and milk allergies are outgrown by the time the child is school age.

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