Not to be
AVING a child with a food allergy is a daily struggle that parents hope to avoid. But with a doubling in the prevalence of severe food allergies over the past decade, it’s clear avoidance just isn’t working.
In the past, parents have been advised that, to stop young children developing food allergies, they should prevent them eating foods that commonly cause the allergy such as dairy products, eggs, nuts and fish.
But the thinking about allergy prevention is changing, and some eminent allergists now believe the key to children avoiding allergies is for them to regularly eat foods containing allergens from infancy. IT’S an approach that research has proved works. The Learning Early About Peanut allergy (LEAP) study compared children aged under one who consumed peanuts with those who avoided them completely, and it showed peanut consumption reduced prevalence of peanut allergy by 80%.
Yet many parents are frightened to do it, particularly if they have food allergies themselves and believe their children are also at risk of developing them.
But one mum Robin Nixon Pompa, whose own young child developed a life-threatening allergy to eggs and nuts, has written a book, Allergy-Free Kids, explaining the approach and the science behind it.
She believes it halted and may even have helped ‘cure’ her infant daughter’s food allergies, as well as stopping such allergies developing in her two younger children.
“The main problem is that we were given the wrong advice on how to prevent allergies,” she says. “Instead of avoiding it, we need to give our babies and children allergenic food early, carefully and often.” WHILE this can be a daunting prospect, particularly for allergic parents whose child is at high-risk of allergies, Robin reassures: “Allergic reactions are very scary, but fortunately researchers have found that in the early months, children are very unlikely to have a life-threatening reaction. There may be a few hives or some swelling, but you’re not going to need to rush them to hospital. “The logic used to be, let’s wait for the immune system to be mature enough, or for the child to be old enough to express discomfort, before introducing potentially troublemaking allergens. “But now studies suggest that for most babies, allergens are safe. And avoiding them may make food allergies more likely.” THE idea behind the allergen consumption approach is that by introducing tiny amounts of an allergen into a child’s diet and increasing the amount gradually, the child’s immune system is educated to recognise allergens that it might wrongly have treated as a poison, and learn not to react to them. ROBIN stresses, however, that