Preventing allergies in baby: 6 myths busted!

Follow these expert tips to give your baby the best chance of being a happy, allergy-free kid.

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If a family member suffers from an allergy, your baby might have the genetic tendency ― called atopy — to develop allergic conditions. Incidentally, when a baby gets eczema early in life, he’s more likely to suffer allergic diseases like food allergies, allergic rhinitis (sneezing/runny nose) or asthma later. This natural progression of allergic conditions is known as Atopic or Allergic March.

Dr Elizabeth Tham, a paediatric allergy expert at the National University Hospital, explains that eczema causes the normal skin barrier to break, which makes it more sensitive to allergenic proteins from the surroundings. This, in turn, leads to a person developing food and airway allergies later in life.

You can better manage your child’s allergic conditions and avoid flare-ups in a more hygienic living environment.

Living with an allergy often involves higher healthcare costs and permanent lifestyle changes. So, it’s little wonder that parents worry that their children might have allergies. While you should try your best to ensure that your offspring is in the pink of health, Dr Tham dispels these allergy-prevention myths:

Myth #1: Antibiotics are causing all these allergies
Fact: While it’s true that antibiotics can alter the gut’s microbe composition and predispose children to allergies because they’ll alter their immunity, Dr Tham stresses that antibiotics are essential in treating serious bacterial infections. However, unnecessary antibiotics consumption should be avoided.

Myth #2: Allergic reactions will improve with each subsequent exposure
Fact: Allergic reactions may in fact worsen with subsequent exposure, unless your child is already outgrowing their food allergy, Dr Tham says.

Myth #3: Once you outgrow your food allergies, your babies will enjoy the same immunity
Fact: So far, there has been no evidence to prove that food allergies are hereditary, unlike eczema and asthma. Even if the mother outgrows her food allergy, this doesn’t mean that her kids will inherit this “immunity” from her, explains Dr Tham.

Myth #4: Keeping your house spotless will help prevent allergies like rhinitis and eczema
Fact: Dr Tham cautions, “There has been no evidence to show that better hygiene is able to prevent allergies like rhinitis and eczema.” However, you can better manage your child’s allergic conditions and avoid flare-ups in a more hygienic living environment, she points out. This is especially so if your child has rhinitis and eczema that is triggered by the presence of dust mites.

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Myth #5: Kids are developing allergies because we are too clean
Fact: The hygiene hypothesis alleges that childhood exposure to germs and certain infections — because of the lack of hygiene in rural environments — can help your child’s immune system grow stronger. Dr Tham explains that is just too simplistic a reason for allergy development or prevention. Allergies are dependent on a wide variety of factors, including:

*Breastfeeding
*Diets and infant weaning
*Environmental exposure
*Lifestyle factors
*Genetic factors

Myth #6: Your child will eventually outgrow your allergies it just takes time
Fact: It depends. When it comes to food allergies like eggs and milk, junior might grow out of these in time to come. However, peanut and shellfish allergies tend to persist indefinitely. It is also difficult to say if a person can or will outgrow his eczema or rhinitis.

In the meantime, your kiddo’s doctor might prescribe antihistamines to control conditions like allergic rhinitis or hives. Dr Tham advises, “If symptoms are still not well controlled despite correct usage of these medications, consult a doctor.”

“There is no evidence to suggest that consuming any particular food in the mother’s diet increases the risk of allergies in children.”

Lowering your child’s risk of allergies

Stub it out If you smoke, dropping this bad habit will help lower your kid’s risk of developing asthma. Dr Tham adds that maternal stress or distress and inadequate levels of vitamin D during one’s pregnancy can also increase the risk of wheezing, too.

Be vigilant on antibiotic use Using antibiotics during the last trimester of pregnancy may also increase the risk of childhood wheezing or asthma. But before you skip those pills, Dr Tham cautions that more research is still needed in this area. So, continue with your meds, per your doctor’s instructions.

Eat well Stick to a well-balanced diet with high amounts of fruits, vegetables and omega-3 fish oils. And if you are thinking of skipping allergenic foods just as a precaution, don’t do it. Dr Tham states, “There is no evidence to suggest that consuming any particular food in the mother’s diet increases the risk of allergies in children.”

When baby arrives, Dr Tham stresses that you follow these strategies:

*Breastfeed your child for at least 6 months, and if possible, up to age 1.
*Introduce solid foods to bubba at between 4 and 6 months of age and no later than 6 months.
*Include common allergenic foods in their weaning diet like eggs, peanuts and shellfish.
*Avoid smoking to reduce your child’s exposure.
*Apply emollients or moisturising creams on babies’ skin from birth, which may reduce their eczema risk.

Dr Elizabeth Tham is an associate consultant at the Division of Paediatric Allergy, Immunology & Rheumatology, National University Hospital.

Photos: iStock

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