When you start weaning your baby off breastmilk or formula, you will start to introduce solid foods into their diet. Allergies can be uncovered at this stage of infancy. But while allergies are relatively uncommon, you should be aware of the symptoms in case your baby’s health is at risk.

What is an allergy?

An allergy is a reaction to something (an allergen) that your baby comes into contact with. This can be through skin contact, breathing or eating and drinking.

Allergens cause the body to release histamines, which result in rapid redness, irritation and swelling. Allergic reactions to foods (called allergenic foods) often also cause bowel and digestion problems.

What are the most common allergenic foods?

The most common food allergens include:

  • milk and dairy products
  • eggs
  • peanuts
  • tree nuts
  • sesame
  • soy
  • fish
  • shellfish
  • wheat.

What are some of the symptoms of an allergic reaction?

Allergic reactions can range from something more closely resembling an intolerance (like lactose intolerance) to acute and life-threatening.

Mild to moderate allergic reactions include:

  • welts, hives and eczema
  • redness – either patchy or all over
  • a swelling face, eyes and mouth
  • vomiting and bowel problems
  • excessive sneezing – like hay fever – and asthma.

Serious allergic reaction is also called anaphylaxis, and these symptoms occur almost instantly, including:

  • a swollen throat and tongue
  • paleness and floppiness
  • diarrhoea
  • wheezy or laboured breathing
  • unresponsiveness.

If any of these symptoms occur, you must call an ambulance immediately. The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) and the Australian government advise that if an adrenaline auto-injector, like an EpiPen®, is available you should use this prior to calling an ambulance. Speak to your child health nurse about how to use one of these.

How are allergies tested for?

Allergies can be tested for in two main ways:

  • Skin prick test where tiny amounts of common allergens are pricked into your baby’s skin with a small needle. Red lumps usually indicate an allergic reaction.
  • Blood test blood is taken and tested for its response to various allergens. Although this is more invasive, it is sometimes necessary if your baby has skin complications like eczema.

Reducing the likelihood of allergies

ASICA lays out recommendations and guidelines for introducing allergenic foods to infants. This involves just that: introducing small amounts of common allergens and monitoring reactions. You might like to keep a diary of what you feed your baby and note any adverse reactions.

If you have any questions about this process or any concerns about symptoms you have seen in your baby, you should seek medical advice.