Abu Dhabi: In order to reduce the risk of children developing food allergies, parents should begin exposing them to common allergenic foods as early as six months on, doctors have advised.
The approach has proved effective at reducing the incidence of food allergies, but is not yet well-known to many parents in the UAE, they said.
“Many parents still follow the American Academy of Paediatrics’ recommendations issued in 2000, which urge them not to give children allergenic foods like peanuts before the age of three years. But recent findings show that this advice is not sound,” Dr Mudit Kumar, paediatric consultant and neonatology specialist at Mediclinic Welcare Hospital, told Gulf News.
“In fact, children who are exposed to nuts at an early age develop fewer allergies, and it is important for people to know this at a time when the global incidence of food allergies is on the rise,” he added.
Food allergies occur when the body reacts unusually to specific food items or food groups, and are more common in children than adults.
Over the last two decades, there has been a 600 per cent increase globally in the reported prevalence of food allergies. Dr Nirajan Mukherjee, consultant paediatrician at King’s College Hospital Clinic, said this can be attributed to changing lifestyles, increasing urbanisation and better awareness of allergies in general.
“We know that children with eczema and allergic rhinitis are very prone to developing food allergies, and both conditions are very common in the UAE. This is why parents should take precautions to prevent food allergies whenever possible, and parents should remember that children whose siblings have food allergies are also more prone to developing the same allergy,” he added.
In January 2017, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the United States issued recommendations to feed children peanut-containing foods as a way to prevent an allergy to the nut. As reported by Gulf News, studies at the Institute had shown that eating such foods between the ages of four months and five years had reduced the risk of peanut allergies by 81 per cent among children deemed at high risk of developing such an allergy because they had eczema, egg allergies or both.
The institute said that this is the only way to reduce the growing peanut allergy scourge, which cannot be treated and persists into adulthood for those who develop it.
Dr Kumar said there is a hypothesis that people develop more allergies in cleaner, more hygienic urban environments.
“So instead of avoiding allergenic foods, children, and even pregnant women, should consume them in healthy quantities, especially in developed countries like the UAE where food is produced in safe and hygienic conditions,” he advised.
Dr Mukherjee explained that there is currently much research into the effects of immunotherapy to combat respiratory allergies, but that such treatment is not yet well-established with food items.
“It is best to consult a dietician if your child is allergic to more than two types of food so that you can develop and follow an appropriate diet. In addition, parents should always check product labels before feeding children, and ask about foods when eating out,” he said.
“A food allergy can become far more serious than simple intolerance to a particular food. Intolerance is just an ability by the body to digest a certain food or its compounds, whereas an allergic reaction can affect many different organs in the body. So vigilance is key,” Dr Mukherjee added.
What is a food allergy?
Food allergies occur when the body reacts unusually to specific food items or food groups, and are more common in children than adults. When an allergic reaction occurs, sufferers often develop an itchy sensation inside the mouth, throat or ears, or a raised itchy skin rash known as hives. Parts of their face may also swell up, and they may vomit. In cases of serious allergy, known as anaphylaxis, patients suffer from breathing difficulties, lightheadedness and loss of consciousness, and the allergy could become life-threatening if adrenaline is not immediately administered.
The most common allergenic foods and food ingredients are milk, eggs, fish, shellfish or crustaceans, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soya. A study by the United Arab Emirates University in Al Ain found earlier that the most common foods causing allergies in children in the UAE were egg (40 per cent), fruits (40 per cent) and fish (33 per cent).