Page last updated at 08:07 GMT, Thursday, 31 January 2008

Baby allergy fears 'over the top'

Many parents may worry unnecessarily

Mothers who fear their babies suffer from food allergies or intolerances are largely wrong, research has found.

More than 800 babies were monitored for three years, and more than a third of their parents said their child had a food allergy or intolerance.

But just 27 were allergic to any food at the age of three, and fewer than 60 had a reaction to food at any stage.

The University of Portsmouth research also found rates of food allergies or intolerances are not rising.

Most children out grow their milk and egg allergy
Dr Carina Venter, dietician and senior researcher at the University, of Portsmouth

Carina Venter, a dietician and senior researcher at the University, spent three years studying nearly all the babies born in one year on the Isle of Wight.

The babies were studied at six months, one, two and three years of age.

More aware

Dr Venter said: "People have become more aware of food allergies, particularly of peanut allergy.

"Mums tend to put down every rash, tummy ache, diarrhoea and crying to food allergy or intolerance."

The study, funded by the Food Standards Agency, found parents jump to the conclusion of a food allergy or intolerance far too quickly.

The appearance of a rash, itching or developing hives or eczema, were the main reasons parents decided their child had a food intolerance.

A tummy ache, vomiting, wheeziness and coughing were also factors.

The study also found babies could be allergic to some foods and outgrow this intolerance within a year or two - between 5% and 6% of babies had an allergic reaction to some foods at some point in the three years, but just 27 were left with allergies at the age of three.

Dr Venter said: "It is commonly known that most children out grow their milk and egg allergy.

"Fish and peanut allergies can be outgrown, but it is less likely."

Allergy sources

Milk, eggs, fruit - mainly strawberries and citrus fruit - additives and wheat, peanuts, fish and soya were the foods most commonly blamed by mothers for causing an allergy.

It is essential doctors do listen to parents' concerns
Dr Adam Fox
Consultant paediatric allergist

But the foods that were more likely to cause an allergic reaction are peanuts, eggs, milk, wheat, brazil and almond nuts.

Some of the babies also had a reaction to gluten, hazelnut, cashew nut and corn.

Peanut and sesame allergy tests were not given until the age of three, because it is thought babies shouldn't be exposed to these items when they are any younger.

The only other study of this type - monitoring babies' allergies for their first three years - was conducted in the US 20 years ago.

This study found the number of allergies had dropped slightly.

Dr Venter said: "Why food allergies haven't increased isn't clear. Asthma, eczema and hay fever are growing, and we thought food allergies were too.

"We don't know at this stage why it isn't increasing."

Dr Adam Fox, a consultant paediatric allergist at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, said: "Whilst a large number of parents do worry about their children having food allergies, most children won't.

"But unfortunately for a significant minority, food allergies are a very real problem, and it has a huge impact on their lives.

"It is essential doctors do listen to parents' concerns - all good paediatricians know you ignore a mother's instinct at your peril.

"By failing to take parents' concerns seriously, it will often lead them to look elsewhere for advice.

"As a result children end up on unnecessary exclusion diets or their allergies are not correctly diagnosed."

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