Will My Baby Ever Outgrow His Allergies?
If your baby always sneezes around the family cat, or gets a skin rash when you feed her fish, you may wonder whether her symptoms are here to stay or if these allergies will pass over time.
"Milk, egg and soy allergies are most commonly outgrown," says Dr. Neeta Ogden, an allergy specialist in New Jersey and a spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. "But even for some allergies that tend to be lifelong, including peanut allergies, there is some evidence that your child may outgrow them over time if you eliminate the food from your child's diet."
In fact, in a 2013 study published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Clinical Immunology, more than a quarter of kids outgrew their allergies by the time they were 5½ years old.
Here, discover which common allergies your baby is likely to leave behind in early childhood -- and what you can do about them in the meantime.
Sensitivity to cow's milk is the most common childhood food allergy, affecting 2 percent of children under age 4. Luckily, it's also one that's commonly outgrown -- 64 percent of kids will shed their milk allergy by the time they're 12 years old. You can try to reintroduce milk and milk products every few months to see if your child can tolerate them. Some kids have no problem with baked goods (like cake) that have milk as an ingredient, even if they can't handle drinking a glass of milk along with it.
About 2 percent of young children are allergic to eggs, but 70 percent of those kids outgrow it by age 16. Although some kids are sensitive to any egg exposure, others can tolerate eggs if they're extensively heated or baked, says Gital Patel, M.D., an Ohio-based board-certified pediatrician and allergist. So even if your child can't stomach an omelet, you may find she has no reaction to a muffin made with eggs. In fact, some allergists believe that continuing to expose kids to foods with eggs baked inside could help build tolerance over time. The best way to proceed? See an allergist for testing and to discuss how stringent you should be about avoiding eggs.
Peanuts and Tree Nuts
The number of kids with a peanut allergy has tripled in recent years. Only 20 percent of children will outgrow peanut allergies in their lifetime, so most likely you'll be avoiding PB&J for the long haul. Once you discover that your baby is allergic to peanuts, it's best to eliminate them from his diet because of the danger of anaphylaxis, a severe reaction in which blood pressure drops and airways narrow, making breathing difficult. Because of the risk of cross-contamination, Dr. Patel also recommends avoiding tree nuts such as walnuts, almonds and cashews.
So how can you tell if your kid is one of the lucky ones who have outgrown the allergy? Visit your child's allergist for an in-office food challenge to safely determine if you can reintroduce nuts.
Want to try to prevent a peanut allergy altogether? Feed your baby peanuts soon after you start solids, says Dr. Ogden. This is contrary to what pediatricians had been recommending for decades -- avoiding peanuts until after age one -- but a groundbreaking new study published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that the early introduction of peanuts may offer protection against developing an allergy. So go ahead and mix a bit of peanut butter into your baby's cereal or add finely ground nuts to a puree.
Most children with shellfish allergies don't outgrow them, so if you've discovered your child can't tolerate shrimp, crab, lobster and the like, steer clear.
Babies often don't exhibit sensitivity to pets until after their first birthday. Once they do develop an allergy, though, the only thing you can do is try to limit their exposure. If you don't want to part with a family pet, try keeping it out of the child's bedroom, washing hands regularly, and vacuuming animal hair and dander frequently. You may also want to consider a portable air purifier equipped with a HEPA filter, which can help to remove airborne allergies. Unfortunately, allergies to dogs and cats are unlikely to subside over time. Once your child is 5 years old, ask your child's allergist about allergy shots to reduce symptoms.
Children need to be exposed to pollen, grass, ragweed, trees, and other outdoor allergens for a year or more before you'll see signs of sensitivity. And these types of allergies tend to ebb and flow, says Dr. Ogden. So, while some children have more severe allergies when they're young, others may not develop reactions until their teenage years or later in adulthood. Again, once your child is 5 years old, you may want to explore the option of allergy shots to reduce symptoms.
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