These words may sound like the names of two of Snow White’s dwarves, but they are in fact linked to food allergy – a term we are hearing more and more often these days.
You only have to look at the statistics to see how much of an issue food allergy is becoming: the ‘free-from’ foods sector in the UK is set to grow by 46 per cent and estimated to be worth £561M by 2017, while the market for gluten-free foods alone has grown by 120 per cent in the past five years.
So why are allergies growing at such an alarming rate? Some of the latest information and surveys show that allergies are growing worldwide and can affect between 30-35 per cent of people at some stage in their lives. The pattern of allergy is also changing: the increase was originally in asthma and allergic rhinitis (hay fever), but recent studies have confirmed a significant increase in the incidence of food allergies, in particular among children. In the UK, it is estimated that up to 50 per cent of children are diagnosed with an allergic condition.
The terms food allergy and food intolerance seem to be a little confused sometimes. So, what is the difference? Well, there are two types of antibodies your body will produce when it encounters a food or substances that it doesn’t like. The classic allergy will happen with the IgE (Immunoglobulin E) antibody. IgE triggers the release of chemicals such as histamine which cause the classic symptoms of allergy – skin rashes, hay fever, rhinitis, sinusitis, asthma, eczema and anaphylaxis.
Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening condition whereby the mouth and throat swell, meaning the person may struggle to breathe. It can also be accompanied by a severe asthma attack, an irregular heartbeat and loss of consciousness. IgE allergies are severe and may be life-long. An example of this is peanut allergy.
The most common form of food allergy is where the IgG antibody is involved. This is often called ‘delayed-onset’ allergy because the reaction may take anything from an hour to a few days to show itself. The fact that IgG reactions are often due to a number of common foods your child may be eating on a regular basis means that it can be hard to define which one is the culprit.
Food intoleranceor sensitivity is a reaction to a food where there is no measurable immune response. One example is lactose intolerance, where a child lacks the enzyme lactose. This enzyme is needed to break down the milk sugars so a child who lacks the enzyme may develop diarrhoea and abdominal discomfort when they drink milk.
Genetically, you or your children may be predisposed to the chance of developing allergies. Families where allergies already exist have a higher than average chance of developing allergies themselves. In the UK today, children have a one in five predisposition to developing an allergy. However, the risk is doubled if one parent has an allergy (particularly if that parent is the mother). If both parents have allergies, the risk is increased to 60-80 per cent.
Allergies can affect any system of the body and have a diverse range of symptoms such as;
• Dark eye circles
• Frequent infections
• Headaches and migraines
It might be beneficial to ensure your child has a healthy digestive system. Many children may be suffering from ‘leaky gut’ which means that partially undigested proteins enter their bloodstream and trigger a reaction. A leaky gut can develop with frequent use of antibiotics, gastrointestinal infection, or a deficiency in essential fats, vitamin A or Zinc. So identifying what your child is allergic to, removing the offending food, and then healing their digestive system will all help when dealing with an IgG food allergy.
If your child has a history of colic as an infant, eczema, asthma, ear or chest infections, hay fever, seasonal allergies, digestive problems, frequent colds and any learning or behavioural problems, and you suspect a food allergy, it may be worth having them tested for food allergy. Testing is best done under the guidance of an allergy expert who will be able to give the appropriate advice.
My personal experience of food allergies has been plentiful and it has been a huge learning curve for me. Both my older children Joe and Cara had allergies diagnosed when they were quite young and they ranged from dairy/ cows milk allergies to egg to more serious nut allergies. Both have outgrown the egg allergy when they were around 8/9. Thank god for Scrambled eggs! I never knew the handiness of them for children as I was never able to make them before then!
We had epi pens prescribed for the nut allergies and to be honest, those early days after a diagnosis were pretty scary. I had to educate myself on everything I possibly could around the subject of nut allergies. I had to read every label in the supermarkets to make sure I was avoiding the allergens that were the bane of our life. We are talking around 9-10 years ago and there were much less ‘free from’ products available than there are now in the supermarkets. There are some wonderful products freely available now.
My oldest daughter Cara suffered terrible Cow’s Milk Allergy as a baby and her symptoms ranged from dark eye circles, to Asthma, horrendous eczema, severe nasal congestion and catarrh, frequent chest, ear and throat infections and the worst one - sleeplessness. She literally woke every hour through the night crying for milk, and we would give her some and so the vicious cycle repeated itself. Her Cow’s Milk Allergy wasn’t diagnosed until she was 4 so until then it seemed she was sick every other month with some infection or another. I remember she used to complain a lot of having tummy pains and one of the many times I took her to the doctor I was told it was ‘growing pains’!!!!! It was extremely frustrating as I knew deep down that something wasn’t right. There was very little guidance on suitable formula milk, mainly because Cow’s Milk Allergy wasn’t taken as seriously then as it is now, apart from a Lactose free formula which didn’t help at all. I breastfed both my older two for a few months after they were born and both have developed food allergies so don’t beat yourself up if you weren’t able to breastfeed and your little one has allergies!
With my younger two girls, due to the history of food allergies in the family already, and the start of symptoms showing when they took normal formula as babies, I was advised by my health visitor to try a Cow’s milk protein free hydrolysed formula milk. I had never heard of it before until then. Well oh how I wish I had used this with my older two when they were babies. The stuff was an absolute miracle! It smells completely different to normal formula and will take time for your little one to adjust to it but it worked a dream for us and for the girls.
If you are following a Cow’s milk free formula for your baby, remember that you will need to follow Cow’s milk free weaning also. Many babies grow out of their Cow’s Milk allergy by the time they are 3-5 years old thankfully.
As you will know by now Lily is well through her weaning journey and as she has been taking a Cow’s Milk free hydrolysed formula since birth, we are following dairy free weaning too. In terms of using a suitable milk for her recipes I tend to use Coconut milk or Oat Milk. Both are pretty tasty as I use them myself too. They can be used in porridge, cereals etc and in the same way as you would use Cow’s milk. There are lots of delicious coconut milk yoghurts available now which are perfect if you like your little one to have the experience of eating yoghurt.
If you are concerned that your little one may have Cow’s Milk Allergy or any other type of allergy – there is some wonderful information here (link to http://www.cowsmilkallergy.co.uk) and here (link to http://www.allergyuk.org )