Many infants develop allergies very early on, often in the first few months of life. Infant allergies can easily be misdiagnosed as their symptoms frequently mimic the symptoms of other infant conditions such as colic, finicky eating habits, teething, even a cold or the flu. Parents need to recognize what symptoms are typical for the more routine problems most infants encounter and what symptoms may indicate an underlying or developing allergy.
Infant allergies are triggered by a variety of sources from an allergic reaction to a particular food to a reaction to a medication to a reaction to something in the environment. When an infant develops an allergy, its immune system has incorrectly reacted to a usually harmless substance and has determined that substance to be toxic. The infant’s immune system then develops an antibody to fight that substance, causing the allergic reaction and a wide range of symptoms.
* Genetic predisposition:
Infants with parents who suffer from allergies or who suffered from allergies as a child have a significant chance of also developing allergies in their lifetime, although not necessarily the same allergies. If both parents have experienced allergies, the probability goes up even higher. Fortunately, many children outgrow early allergies as they mature into adulthood. In less fortunate situations allergies may continue throughout life, some leading to additional problems such as asthma.
* Is it an allergy?
Most infant ailments disappear in a relatively short period of time, from a few days up to ten days for the average cold or flu. By comparison, allergy symptoms can last for weeks, months, even year-round depending on the type of allergy. With many infant ailments the infant will develop a fever or the nasal discharge may turn yellowish. With allergies a fever is usually not indicated and any nasal discharge typically remains clear unless an infection has set in. If an infant’s symptoms persist with no evidence of improvement the problem is most likely not a cold or sniffles but possibly an early childhood allergy.
* Wide range of symptoms:
Depending on the type of allergy an infant develops, many different symptoms may develop including hives, nasal congestion, nasal discharge, difficulty sleeping, irritability, circles under the eyes, runny eyes, vomiting and diarrhea. More severe symptoms can include difficulty breathing, wheezing, rapid pulse, dizziness, swelling of the mouth, throat and tongue, numbness, even loss of consciousness, all which can indicate a possible life-threatening anaphylactic reaction. If any of these severe symptoms occur, immediate medical care is required.
* Atopic dermatitis
Many infants develop atopic dermatitis (eczema) in the first few months of life, often indicating the possibility of an underlying allergy. Symptoms of atopic dermatitis typically start with an itchy rash that can appear on the face, arms and legs, scalp and upper body. This early eczema is not to be confused with diaper rash and doesn’t usually affect the diaper area.
* Nasal allergies
Infants who develop eczema often develop other allergies such as nasal allergies (rhinitis). Symptoms of nasal rhinitis include runny itchy nose, watery eyes, irritated throat, coughing, sneezing and circles under the eyes, symptoms that usually persist well beyond the normal duration for a cold or sniffles. Young children can also develop seasonal or year-round allergies depending on what allergens are present in their indoor and outdoor environments.
Children who do develop nasal allergies are often vulnerable to developing asthma at some point. Asthma symptoms typically include a dry hacking cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, a tight feeling in the chest area and difficulty sleeping. Again, parents should be aware of any symptoms that are severe or persist beyond the typical duration of a common childhood illness.
* Food allergies
Infants may also develop food allergies, especially as they transition to solid foods. Although food allergy symptoms typically manifest themselves within minutes or a few hours of ingesting the food, infants don’t always show an allergic reaction to a food the first time they are exposed to it. The allergy may develop but the allergic reaction may not show up until several feedings later.
Symptoms of food allergies include abdominal distress, bloating, vomiting, diarrhea, flushing, redness, hives (red raised welts), and swelling of the lips, eyes or tongue. More serious symptoms include shortness of breath and possible closing of the airwaves.
The most common foods that can trigger allergic reactions are milk, eggs, soy, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish. Infants and young children are mostly vulnerable to milk, soy and peanuts. When introducing a new food to an infant it is recommended to introduce the food gradually over several feedings and watch for any signs of an allergic reaction. Many infant and early childhood food issues eventually test out as digestive intolerances such as with lactose rather than as actual food allergies caused by an immune system reaction.
* Environmental allergies
Many allergic reactions are caused by indoor allergens such as mold, mildew, pet dander, dust, smoke and chemicals, and outdoor allergens such as grasses, pollens, even insect bites and bee stings, all causing a wide range of symptoms from minimal to severe.
Whenever an infant displays any symptoms that are causing distress, whether severe or not, parents should consult with their infant’s pediatrician. Although most symptoms will prove typical of early childhood issues, others may not and will require testing, diagnosis and a treatment plan. If your infant exhibits any of the more severe symptoms mentioned above seek immediate emergency medical assistance. Always err on the side of caution, especially where precious children are concerned.