Treating mild and serious allergies in babies

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How do I know if my baby is allergic to something?

The short answer is that you don’t know whether your baby is allergic to something until you try it. So it’s important to monitor new foods really carefully when you’re feeding them to your baby for the first time.

Some foods are more generally allergic than others – eggs, nuts and dairy are a few examples. So introduce them in very small amounts and watch to see if there’s any reaction. The reaction usually occurs the first time you feed it, but it might not – it might be the second or third time – so watch carefully.

Sometimes if you switch from breast milk to a milk-based formula milk, you might be introducing your baby to something they’re allergic to – it’s possible they have a dairy allergy you’re unaware of, for example. So if you switch to formula and your baby has an odd reaction – any swelling, rashes (sometimes mistaken for eczema) or strange breathing – it might be an allergy to the formula so get it checked immediately.

What do I do if my baby is allergic to something?

If the reaction is big, rush your baby to A&E or call 999 for an ambulance. At the hospital they will give your baby antihistamine medicine, or an EpiPen, then monitor them. If it’s just a mild reaction, stop feeding them that food or drink and go to see your doctor. If your baby is allergic to one food it’s possible they’ll be allergic to a whole lot more as well. The doctor can do what are called ‘skin prick tests’ where they’ll introduce a tiny amount of potential allergens and see if your baby reacts to them. The doctor will advise you how to proceed once you know which foods, if any, your baby is really allergic to.

How do I treat a reaction to an allergy?

If your baby is diagnosed with an allergy, your doctor will advise you what to do if an allergic reaction happens. Follow their advice. Milder reactions to allergies can be treated with an antihistamine liquid, such as Piriton. The doctor will prescribe this and advise you how to use it. You can get it from pharmacists and follow directions on the bottle precisely. If your baby’s breathing is stopping, or the swelling and rashes are intense, they are going into anaphylactic shock and you need to react urgently.

What is anaphylactic shock?

Anaphylaxis is a complete overreaction of the body’s natural defences to an allergen such as nuts, shellfish, bee stings or pollen. Anything can set off a severe allergic reaction.

What are the symptoms of anaphylactic shock?

Signs and symptoms that you’re looking for would include red blotchy areas, particularly around the face but also on other areas of the skin. You may also get swelling, particularly around the eyes, the lips and the tongue and this is what’s dangerous because if the tongue swells it can block off the airway and then your child won’t be able to breathe. You may also hear quite a wheeze because of this swelling particularly when the baby breathes in.

How do I treat anaphylactic shock?

If you suspect your baby or child has gone into anaphylactic shock and this is the first time it has happened you will not have any medication to hand. Anaphylactic shock is a medical emergency so you need to call 999 and ask for an ambulance. Explain to the call handler that you think your baby has gone into anaphylactic shock, and this is an emergency. Don’t just say an allergic reaction as this could be misinterpreted as anything including a mild rash, which isn’t a medical emergency.

EpiPens for babies and children

To treat anaphylactic shock parents need to act quite fast. If the baby or child seems a little bit dizzy, support them but keep them sitting up. If the baby has been prescribed medication such as an EpiPen this will be the time to use it.

How do I use an EpiPen?

If you need to be able to use an EpiPen you can watch the Essential Baby Care Guide – ‘Allergies and EpiPens’ section in First Aid – to learn to use an EpiPen, but we’ll refresh your memory here.

Take off the grey safety cap. Hold the EpiPen in a closed fist so that your fingers and thumbs aren’t anywhere near either end. Then imagine that a cross is drawn on the thigh area. We’re aiming for the upper outer square of that cross. Roughly where the seam of the trousers would be. Where the most fat is.

Hold the pen in a closed fist and jab it into that area of the thigh. Hold it there for 10 seconds to allow the full dose to go into the body. After those 10 seconds gently massage the area to spread the medication around. Once this is done reassure your baby. Keep monitoring them, paying particular attention to the breathing. And it’s very important to get that ambulance on the way quickly because this medication may only keep the reaction under control for a short amount of time. If the reaction isn’t coming under control or starts to reoccur and you’ve been given a second pen, use the EpiPen again in exactly the same way five minutes later.

For more information on allergies, visit nhs.uk