Allergies & Asthma in Children
Allergies and asthma tend to run in families. Children where one or both parents have an allergic disease are more likely to develop these conditions. Fortunately, there are steps that may delay or possibly prevent allergies or asthma from developing.
Preventing Food Allergies
Food allergies can cause problems ranging from eczema to life-threatening allergic reactions. The eight most common foods associated with this phenomenon are: cow’s milk, soy, egg, fish, shellfish, peanuts and tree nuts, and wheat, but any food can cause these reactions.
- Infants at risk for developing food allergy are those with a biological parent or sibling with existing, or history of, allergic rhinitis, asthma, atopic dermatitis, or food allergy.
- Restricting a mother’s diet during pregnancy and while breastfeeding have been tried as approaches to protecting against food allergies, but they have not been proven to be effective.
- Breast milk is the least likely to trigger an allergic reaction, and it strengthens an infant’s immune system. Experts recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first four to six months.
- For infants at risk for food allergy, who are not exclusively breastfed, the use of hydrolyzed infant formulas instead of cow’s milk formula, may be considered as a preventive strategy.
- After four to six months, single-ingredient infant foods including fruits, vegetables and cereal grains can be introduced one at a time. This slow process gives parents or caregivers a chance to identify and eliminate any food that causes an allergic reaction.
- The introduction of solid foods should not be delayed beyond 4 to 6 months of age. Delaying the introduction of potentially allergenic foods, even in infants at risk for food allergy, has not been clearly shown to be beneficial.
Preventing Environmental Allergies and Asthma
Since some airborne substances may trigger allergy or asthma symptoms, reducing contact with these substances early in life may delay or prevent allergy or asthma symptoms. Research for this is clearest with dust mites. If your child is at high risk of developing allergies, there are steps you can take to control dust mites.
- Use zippered, “allergen-impermeable” covers on pillows and mattresses and wash bedding in hot water weekly. Indoor humidity should be kept below 50%. If possible, carpets and upholstered furniture should be removed from your infant’s bedroom.
Pets and Other Animals
The relationship between early life exposure to animals and the development of allergies and asthma is somewhat confusing. Previous evidence suggested that children exposed to animals early in life are more likely to develop allergies and asthma. More recent research seems to show that early exposure to animals (cats and dogs in particular) may actually protect children from developing these diseases. Newer research also suggests children raised on farms develop fewer allergies and asthma.
It is very important not to expose your children to tobacco smoke before or after birth. Smoking during pregnancy increases the chance of your child wheezing during infancy. Exposing children to secondhand smoke has also been shown to increase the development of asthma and other chronic respiratory illnesses.
Benefits of Breastfeeding
Infections that start in the lungs are common triggers of asthma. Since breastfeeding for at least four to six months strengthens a child’s immune systems, it is helpful in avoiding these infections and, in the long term, asthma.