Allergies happen when a person's body perceives
a normally harmless substance, such as pollen,
mold, dust, or a particular food, as an invader.
In its own defense, the body produces large
amounts of the antibody immunoglobulin E (IgE).
When the antibodies come in contact with the
substance, the body perceives as dangerous,
they attach themselves to tissue and blood cells.
These cells then release powerful inflammatory
chemicals, called mediators: histamines, prostaglandins,
and leukotrienes. These in turn affect mucous
glands, capillaries, and smooth muscles, causing
the sufferer to experience allergic symptoms.
Symptoms are usually found in more than one
body system and can be contradictory. Reactions
to food most commonly cause symptoms in the
gastrointestinal system, including spitting
up, diarrhea (in a breastfed infant, this means
stools are looser, more watery, and greater
in number and volume than usual), cramping,
constipation, gas, malabsorption of nutrients
(which could result in poor weight gain), and
colitis. The respiratory system, skin, eyes,
and central nervous system may also be involved
in allergic reactions to food. The table at
the bottom gives an idea of what form allergic
symptoms can take.
Parents often use behavior to help identify
allergies in their child. How a child feels
will be revealed in behavior. A child who does
not feel well cannot behave well. A baby whose
body chemistry is muddled by allergies will
be confused and miserable.
Milk Tops the List
Lists of the foods most likely to trigger allergic
responses differ from source to source and culture
to culture, but cow's milk and dairy products
top them all. There are more than 20 substances
in cow's milk that have been shown to be human
allergens (Stigler 1985). Colic and vomiting
are often caused by cow's milk allergy. Eczema--dry,
rough, red skin patches that can progress to
open, weeping sores--is another common symptom
among children allergic to cow's milk. Cow's
milk has been found to cause sleeplessness in
infants and toddlers. Dairy allergy has also
been suggested as a cause of bed wetting in
an older child.
When fed cow's milk-based formulas, some babies
react simply because of the large amounts of
cow's milk they receive. Feeding baby artificial
baby milk is equivalent to an adult drinking
seven quarts (almost eight liters) of milk a
day! Allergies such as these are not accompanied
by changes in the immune system-there is no
rise in IgE levels-and they often subside spontaneously.
Parents who are bottle-feeding keep switching
brands of formula until they find one that works
or until the baby outgrows the symptoms.
Early and occasional exposure to cow's milk
proteins can sensitize a baby so that even tiny
amounts of cow's milk may trigger a response:
IgE levels rise and a severe reaction may occur.
Thus, sensitive babies may react to cow's milk
in their mothers' diet. Small amounts of cow's
milk protein may appear in a mother's milk and
provoke a response in her baby, even if the
mother herself is not allergic to cow's milk.
If there is a family history of milk allergies,
a mother may prefer to avoid dairy products
in her diet as well as not offering them directly
to her baby. Severe reactions could otherwise
Other common foods that cause allergic reactions
are eggs, wheat, corn, pork, fish and shellfish,
peanuts, tomatoes, onions, cabbage, berries,
nuts, spices, citrus fruits and juices, and
Avoiding foods that have been exposed to chemicals
while being grown or raised, has helped some
allergy sufferers. Other things to consider
avoiding include additives, flavorings, preservatives,
and colorings. In many places, cows, pigs, and
chickens are fed antibiotics to produce healthy
animals; these may cause or trigger allergies
in very susceptible individuals. Coatings on
vitamins or other medications can cause an allergic
response, as can fluoride, iron, and some herbal
preparations. Be sure no siblings or other family
members are giving the baby a taste of anything--this
is one time when sharing is not appropriate.
Eating foods that are chilled or cold sets off
reactions for some.
Sometimes mothers feel
that because a food could be a potential allergen,
it is best to avoid it entirely. If there is
no history of allergy to these foods in the
mother's or father's family, this may be an
unnecessary precaution. Eating foods a mother
enjoys will help her to find breastfeeding more
satisfying. Mothers do not have to give
up foods they love while breastfeeding. Only
if a baby shows allergic symptoms should a mother
consider avoiding certain foods
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