Peanuts are on everyone's radar, but they aren't the only troublesome food. Eggs, milk, wheat, soy, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish are also top allergens. About 3 million kids (almost 4 out of every 100) have a food allergy. Some fade as a child ages; others tend to stick for life. As for reactions, your child might have a mild one, like getting a few hives around the mouth. Or he might experience a more severe response, such as swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat, or trouble breathing.
How To Prevent It: You might not be able to stop an allergy, says Jacqueline Eghrari-Sabet, M.D., founder of Family Asthma & Allergy Care in Maryland. The American Academy of Pediatrics used to tell parents to delay the introduction of certain foods like nuts and shellfish if their kids battled eczema or if they had a family history of food allergies. Some docs also used to advise pregnant women to avoid nuts. Now we know there's no proof that either tactic works, but there is good reason to introduce new foods gradually. Spacing out their intro over several days will help you ID a problem food if your baby does have an issue, says Trong Le, M.D., an allergist at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
All that said, breastfeeding might offer some protection. A report in a 2008 issue of Pediatrics found that breastfeeding high-risk babies for at least four months can delay or possibly prevent the onset of food allergies, asthma, and eczema. Hypoallergenic infant formulas can also help. In these, the cow's milk proteins are broken down into such small particles that most infants who have a milk allergy can tolerate them.
How to How to Treat It: When eczema is persistent or your child has a reaction to food, visit a pediatric allergist for skin or blood tests. If the results are positive, you'll need to eliminate that food from your child's diet. This means you'll be taking your reading glasses to the grocery store so you can closely inspect labels; nuts, eggs, milk, and wheat are ingredients in many foods. Also, add two very important items to your diaper bag: Children's Benadryl (an over-the-counter antihistamine liquid) and an Epi-Pen Jr. (a prescription adrenaline injector), so you're prepared if your child accidentally eats a trigger food. You'll also need to make sure that your child's day-care provider, grandparents, and babysitters are aware of the allergy and how to manage it.
If the test results are negative, you might want to see a pediatric gastroenterologist. Your baby could have a food intolerance, which means she has trouble digesting a particular food. This can cause acid reflux, gas, bloating, or diarrhea -- which are not allergic reactions.
Something to consider: Recent research published in the January 2010 issue of the The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology shows that 80 percent of children diagnosed with a peanut allergy don't have a true allergy. It's possible that a positive test result could simply indicate a minor sensitivity and not a full-blown allergy, says study author Adnan Custovic, M.D.