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FOOD ALLERGY AND INTOLERANCE IN CHILDREN

Food allergy generally begins in childhood, while food intolerance can begin at any time of life. Having said that, there is often no clear distinction between allergy and intolerance, especially in children. Those with proven allergies, such as asthma or eczema, may show other symptoms that most self-respecting allergists would have nothing to do with – hyperactivity, for example, or muscle aches. If these clear up along with the allergic symptoms when certain foods are withdrawn, then is it allergy or intolerance? To avoid the problem, we will use the term ‘food sensitivity’, to cover both allergy and intolerance.

Over the past ten years, doctors have begun to recognize just how many different childhood problems can be caused by food sensitivity. Colic, eczema, asthma, persistent runny nose, glue ear, headaches, migraine and even behavioural problems, have all been traced back to certain foods or food additives. These discoveries have a bittersweet taste for the many mothers who have been told by their doctors that they themselves were at the root of such problems – because they were over-anxious, inexperienced, nervy, over-indulgent or whatever. This sort of ‘diagnosis’ is usually based on minimal evidence and does untold harm to the self-confidence of mothers at a time when they most need help and support. Anxious, inexperienced mothers can be the source of their child’s mysterious health problems, of course, but there is increasing evidence that it is commonly something in the diet or the environment. There is also evidence that children who show food sensitivity in their early years are more likely to develop other health problems later, often continuing – or reappearing – in their adult lives. Helping these children to adapt to their environment is therefore important, and putting their symptoms down to poor mothering, without any evidence, is irresponsible and potentially damaging.

It is now believed that babies can be sensitized to food even before they are born, because a few food molecules, from food the mother eats, can reach the baby in her womb. More importantly, food molecules get into the mother’s breast milk, and babies that are exclusively breast-fed can be ill because of the sort of food the mother is eating. Although sensitivity to cow’s milk is by far the most common problem in babies and children, all sorts of other foods have been implicated. These relatively recent discoveries have meant that food sensitivity can now be recognized and dealt with far more effectively. They have also suggested ways in which parents can reduce the risk of food sensitivity in their children.

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Posted on Monday, April 20th, 2009 at 12:16 pm and is filed under Allergies. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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