Allergies in Infants: Colic, Reflux, Asthma, Eczema, Sleep issues
Parents and even doctors can be slow to realise that their infant’s symptoms may be triggered by allergies.
When babies are fussy, colicky, or have reflux, this is often caused by food allergies, and the infant who has what appears to be a permanent cold with congestion, runny nose, and possibly a cough too is most likely reacting to allergens.
Allergies can also trigger asthma and sleep issues, and skin problems such as eczema and diaper rash. Reactions can occur immediately following exposure or eating or can take several hours or even a day to appear.
There is a definite genetic tendency towards allergies, so if mum or dad are allergic to food or environment, then frequently baby will have allergies too, although not always to the same things and not the same symptoms.
Allergies happen when the body has an inappropriate immune response. The immune system is designed to protect the body against harmful viruses, bacteria and other pathogens. In the case of allergies, the body is fighting something that is not a threat. One example would be pollens.
Breastfeeding? Your infant can still be reacting to foods
When breastfeeding your baby will be getting what you are eating. So if mum consumes a portion of food that the baby is allergic to then the baby will react.
Severe, anaphylactic reactions
With severe allergies, the mouth, throat or airways can become so inflamed and swollen that baby cannot breathe. It usually happens very quickly and must be treated as an absolute emergency. Call 911 immediately.
Cold or Allergy?
So, how do you tell if your baby is unwell and has a cold or virus, or whether they have allergies?
Colds and infections:
- Usually, the symptoms will be short lived, perhaps a few days to a week or so before they disappear.
- Nasal discharge may be cloudy or possibly green or yellow in colour
- Red, sore eyes (although pink eye can also be itchy)
Symptoms will be present for long periods and at any time of year.
Nasal discharge is clear and persistent.
Red, itchy, watery eyes that baby often rubs, also crusty discharge and dark circles under the eyes possibly accompanied by irritability.
Different symptoms and their causes
Asthma affects the lower part of the respiratory tract. The airways become inflamed and restrict airflow. There are many causes including colds and viruses, allergies to the environment, foods, and also reflux.
Both allergies and colds can cause wheezing and a cough. Babies have small, sensitive airways.
Remember, if you think your child is having difficulty breathing treat it as an emergency and seek help immediately.
Eczema and rashes
These can be caused by food allergies and by contact with environmental factors such as detergents, synthetic fabrics and pets. Rashes can be the first sign of allergic tendencies in a baby.
Eczema can be red, scaly and can be dry or ooze. It can occur anywhere on the body, and is common on chest, torso, face, arms and legs.
Hives rarely occur in small babies and when they do they are small welts.
Digestive Complaints: Colic, spitting up, reflux, fussy eater
Both allergies and the occasional virus can cause these symptoms. In the case of allergies, the symptoms will be frequent and may be persistent. Both food and environmental allergies can cause digestive upset.
Behaviour and sleep problems
Allergies can trigger issues with eating, sleep and cause irritability, usually because of congestion, abdominal discomfort or itchy skin, eyes or nose.
There are many common allergens to consider. This list is not exhaustive and babies can react to almost anything.
- Cow’s milk products – milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, cream, ice-cream
- Wheat and Corn
- Nuts – tree nuts and peanuts
- Fish and shellfish
- Chemicals and Perfumes: household cleaning products, body products and shampoo, detergents, perfume and
- Dust and dust mites
- Fabrics – Synthetics and wool
- Feathers and Pets
So, what can you do?
The first step is to try to remove any potential allergens.
Breastfeeding: mum can eliminate the common allergens from her diet for a week and monitor baby’s symptoms. Once they have improved try reintroducing one food at a time over several weeks and watch for reactions.
Bottle feeding: use a hypoallergenic protein hydrolysate formula (made up of protein that’s so broken down it’s virtually undetectable by the immune system). You can find more information on formula feeding here: http://www.parents.com/baby/feeding/formula/
- Remove feather bedding and change the bedding to natural fibres such as cotton and bamboo
- Use Dust-mite proof covers for mattresses and pillows
- Use scent-free, natural bathing, cleaning and laundry products
- Send your pets to a friend for a week
- Avoid tobacco smoke in the house and on clothes
Continued exposure to allergens will cause reactions to get worse, so it is important to try to identify and remove them. If this can be done for six months then often the body may effectively forget about them.
In identifying allergens, it can be helpful to keep a diary of where your baby has been, what they have been exposed to and eaten, or what mum has eaten if breastfeeding.
Natural allergy treatments
Natural allergy treatments such as NAET can be used to help desensitise baby to the allergens. This process is painless, non-invasive and efficient for food and environmental allergens. It can be used to identify and treat allergies in babies as young as a few days old.
Medication for allergies
As a last resort to get symptoms under control medications can be used:
Oral antihistamines such as Benedryl
Creams for rashes – hydrocortisone cream and, short term for severe cases, steroids
Breastfeeding and decreasing exposure to potential allergens will minimise your baby’s risk of developing allergic reactions.
Allergies are usually not dangerous, but if you are concerned to seek the advice of your doctor or pediatrician.