In 2014–15, the prevalence of allergic rhinitis (hay fever) was also 11%. Food allergies were reported for the first time in the 2014–15 National Health Survey, with 6.3% of children having a food allergy. The most common allergic conditions are food allergies, eczema and hayfever, which can cause symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Some effective treatments for allergies are available but there is no cure at present, so it makes sense to try to prevent allergies in your child as much as possible. The best approach is to identify if your child is at risk and use practical allergy prevention practices.
Is my child at risk of developing allergies?
There has been a substantial amount of research undertaken about preventing allergies but so far there is no clear answer. Some risk factors that increase a child’s likelihood of developing an allergy have been identified:
- Parents or brothers/sisters with any type of allergic condition is associated with increased incidence of allergies.
- Early introduction of cow’s milk or soy milk formula and/or solid food before 3-4 months of age is associated with increased risk of eczema and food allergy.
- Birth in spring increases the risk of hayfever.
- Passive exposure to tobacco smoke associated with an increased risk of respiratory symptoms.
How can I prevent allergies developing?
There has been no conclusive evidence that you can prevent your child from developing allergies. Some theories that have been tested are outline below. However, there is still a chance that a high risk child may develop allergies even if these practical suggestions are followed:
- Do not smoke during pregnancy or near a child, particularly in places where a child sleeps or plays, or in enclosed spaces.
- Breastfeeding is not always possible for everyone; however try to breastfeed for at least 6 months. It may reduce the risk of allergies in your child and also provides a nutritious and balanced food source for your baby.
- Take special care with weaning and the introduction of solid foods. If possible, try to delay introducing solid food until the baby has reached 4-6 months of age. Introduce new foods one at a time, every 2-3 days so that any reactions can be observed. The research regarding the introduction of commonly allergenic foods such as egg, milk, peanut, tree nuts or seafood is conflicting. Some studies showed that the delayed introduction of these foods may even lead to increased risk of food allergy. Considerable research is being conducted in this area for further clarification.
- Consider probiotics – In some studies probiotic supplements probiotic supplements given to mothers during late pregnancy and also to their babies in the first 6 months of life showed a positive effect on the development of eczema, however conclusive evidence is lacking.
- Dust mites – reduced contact with this common allergy trigger early in life may possibly delay or prevent allergy symptoms. If your child is at high risk you may like to take certain steps to control dust mites. This can include using allergy covers on pillows and mattresses and washing bedding in hot water weekly. Carpets and upholstered furniture should be removed if possible, and humidity kept below 50%.
- Animals and pets – the research about early exposure and the development of allergies is once again confusing. Earlier studies showed that children exposed to animals early in life are more likely to develop allergies. However, recent research supports that early exposure to animals, particularly cats and dogs may actually give protection against the development of allergies. Research has also showed that children raised on farms develop fewer allergies.
If you believe your child has allergies it is important to seek the right help. Your doctor may refer you to an allergist or immunologist.
For more information, visit the ASCIA website.
Reference: 1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2016. Australia’s health 2016. Australia’s health series no. 15. Cat. no. AUS 199. Canberra: AIHW. (accessed 6 March 2018)