- A child’s risk of developing some of the most common food allergies, including egg allergy, can be reduced by up to 80% through early and sustained allergen introduction
- Egg allergy affects 2% of children and along with milk and peanut, make up 80% of childhood food allergic reactions
- The new research on food allergy prevention offers two key takeaways for parents: 1) Start introducing allergens early and 2) Keep going
As a board-certified allergist, I see firsthand how families struggle with food allergies. Thankfully, recent landmark studies have shown that a child’s risk of developing some of the most common food allergies, including egg allergy, can be significantly reduced through early and frequent exposure to certain allergenic foods starting at 4-6 months of age. For example, the PETIT (Two-Step Egg Introduction for Allergy Prevention in Infants with Eczema) Study showed that in young infants exposed to eggs there was a 79% reduction in the overall rate of egg allergy.1
Top Allergens Affecting Children
Food allergies are on the rise and now more than 1 in 10 suffer from a food allergy in the US. Although more than 170 foods have been identified as triggers of food allergy, the FDA classifies 8 foods/food groups as major food allergens: milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, shellfish, fish, wheat and soy.2
Egg allergy affects 2% of children and along with milk and peanut, makes up 80% of childhood food allergic reactions. Egg allergy typically presents in the child’s first year of life and ~50% of children do not “outgrow” (or become tolerant to) their egg allergy, but if they do, it may not happen until as late as their teenage years.2,3
New Research on Food Allergy Prevention
The science on food allergy prevention has changed, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, National Institute of Health, and other national organizations have all come out with new recommendations about early and sustained allergen introduction. Here’s a quick summary of the new research on food allergy prevention and how parents can now help prevent common food allergies including an egg allergy.
- LEAP Study: Reference 4
- EAT Study: Reference 5
- PETIT Study: Reference 1
However, introducing allergens can be hard to do. In fact, in the EAT study5, only half of study participants could achieve the study protocol, indicating that early and sustained introduction was difficult at such a young age. I’ve seen this both in my clinical and personal experience. When my son David was 5 months old, I realized how frustrating and time consuming early and sustained allergen introduction was, especially when most of what I offered him to eat ended up on the kitchen floor or on his bib….not in his mouth.
5 Key Lessons for Preventing Food Allergies
As an allergist and mom, there are 5 key lessons that I believe every parent needs to know about reducing the risk of food allergies in their baby:
- Start Introducing Early, Don’t Delay: Guidelines recommend starting as early as 4-6 months because there is a specific window within which our immune systems develop either a positive or negative response to certain food proteins.
- Only Introduce When It’s Best For Baby: Parents should introduce allergens for the first time only when: 1) Baby is healthy and 2) An adult can monitor for any signs of a reaction for at least 2 hours.
- Sustaining Frequent Exposure is Necessary: A baby’s immune system needs time and repeated oral exposure to develop a positive response to foods. Recent landmark studies exposed infants to allergenic foods 2-7 times/week for 3-6+ months.
- Be Persistent: Babies can be picky eaters at 4-6 months of age and it’s hard to get them to consistently eat enough. In one of the recent studies, more than 50% of parents weren’t able to stick with an early allergen introduction protocol and therefore did not necessarily see a decrease in food allergy.
- Breastfeeding + Early Introduction: While breastfeeding can be beneficial, it has not been proven that moms can prevent allergies by eating allergenic foods and exposing the baby through breast milk. It’s important for babies to get additional exposure.
While early introduction is possible to do yourself, many parents struggle to consistently feed allergenic foods as a regular part of their infant’s diet. For some helpful tips on early allergen introduction, visit this link.
For additional information on food allergen labeling visit the FDA website second on food allergens.6
Katie Marks-Cogan, M.D. is board certified in Allergy/Immunology and Internal Medicine, and treats both pediatric and adult patients. She received her M.D. with honors from the University of Maryland School of Medicine and completed her residency in Internal Medicine at Northwestern and fellowship in Allergy/Immunology at the prestigious University of Pennsylvania and Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania (CHOP). She currently works in private practice and is a member of the scientific advisory board for Ready, Set, Food!