Can Food Allergy Be Prevented In Infants?

April 18, 2010

The development of a food allergy in an infant is often a traumatic event for a parent.  It conjures up all sorts of emotions surrounding the fear of life threatening reactions.  It is disturbing as it means their infant will need to avoid certain foods.  But also, it brings up potential feelings of guilt that somehow the parent, often the mother, did something or did not do something that could have prevented the problem.

The reality is there is little that can be done to prevent a specific food allergy in an infant.  In the 1990’s it was felt that avoidance of certain foods during pregnancy, or the delay of introduction of certain foods in infancy, could potentially reduce food allergy in infants.  However, ongoing research does not support this and, in fact, it is possible that delaying the introduction of foods may increase the incidence of food allergy and not decrease it (see related entry from January 12, 2010).

Here is the bottom line on this subject at the present time:

1. There is no good evidence that maternal dietary restrictions during pregnancy is effective in preventing allergy in infants.   We need more data to be able to know whether dietary restriction during breast-feeding has any impact on the development of a food allergy.  It is important to note, that once an allergy is diagnosed in an infant, there very well might be a need for the mother to avoid certain foods, but that is after the fact, not to prevent the allergy to begin with.

2. For infants with one first degree relative (parent or sibling) with allergic disease, there is evidence that exclusive breast-feeding for at least 4 months decreases the incidence of eczema and cow’s milk allergy in the infant in the first two years of life.

3. For infants with one first degree relative with allergies, exclusive breast-feeding for at least 3 months is associated with a lower incidence of wheezing in infants.  This protection does not extend to a lower incidence of asthma at 6 years of age.

4. For infants with one first degree relative with allergies who are not exclusively breast-fed, the use of extensively hydrolyzed formula may have a temporary protective effect on the development of eczema in early childhood.

5. There is no evidence that delaying the introduction of solid food beyond 4-6 months of age has any significant impact on the development of allergic disease.  This extends to delaying the introduction of foods like fish, eggs and those containing peanuts.

6. Infants whose skin is  exposed to foods either through direct skin contact with foods in the home or through contact with moisturizers or skin products that contains various foods, prior to exposure of that food through actual feeding through the gastrointestinal tract, might have an increased risk of developing an allergy to those foods.  This impact might be higher in infants with eczema.

Please remember that the information in this entry pertains to infants without a specific allergy.  Once an infant has a specific food allergy, avoidance and other measures must be taken in order to avoid potentially severe allergic reactions.

Note: The content of this blog is for informational purposes only and is not meant as specific medical advice for a specific person.   If you have a medical problem, please contact your doctor.

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