ALLERGY has risen dramatically
in recent years. The siren is
beginning to sound in many
countries across the world. Indeed,
allergy is one of the chronic diseases most frequently suffered by
infants and children in industrialised countries, where one out of
every three or four children is
On the global scene, it is estimated that asthma, a form of airway
allergy, affects as many as 300 million people with another 100 million expected in 2025.
Allergy seldom kills or maims. Life
does go on for allergy sufferers, but
unless you have an allergy yourself
or live with someone who has it,
you will never fully understand the
impact of allergy on the quality of
life. The physical suffering, the
mental torment, the emotional
struggles, the financial strain and
the endless limitations in many
aspects of life, ranging from food to
sports or vacation to vocation.
In a nutshell, allergy rarely kills
but often steals your zest for life.
As 60% of all allergies appear during the first year of life, it is only
logical for allergy prevention to be
focused on infants and young children. In fact, it is estimated that 35%
of children are affected by allergy.
The most common manifestations of allergy in children are food
allergy, atopic dermatitis, asthma
and allergic rhinitis/conjunctivitis.
As if the misery of one form of
allergy, say dermatitis, is not
enough, allergies may come in a
series called the "allergy march".
Leading this march is atopic dermatitis which is often accompanied
by food allergy. A large proportion
of children with atopic dermatitis
then progress to rhinitis or asthma
later in life. Thus, the development
of allergic diseases can be life-long.
Up till now, there is still no cure
for allergy and prevention remains
the only way to stop the allergy
march. But before we can put the
brakes on allergy, we must know
what drives it.
Allergic diseases run in families. If
you and your spouse both suffer
from allergies, your children will
have a 40-60% risk of developing
allergies. If only one of you is allergic, then the risk falls to 20-40%.
However, even if both parents are
allergy-free, the offspring will still
run a 5-15% risk. So, allergy prevention is justified for all infants.
Besides genes, environmental factors also contribute to the development of allergy. At present, genetic
and environmental factors each
account for 50% of allergic diseases
The major environmental risk
factor is exposure to foreign food
proteins in early life and the main
culprit is cow's milk protein. In
unmodified cow's milk, there are
more than 32 types of proteins with
great potential to trigger food allergy.
Similarly, plant proteins, like soy protein, also possess the potential
to spark off food allergy. While any
food can cause food allergy, the
more potent ones are eggs, milk,
peanuts, tree nuts (for example,
almond, walnut, cashew, hazelnut,
etc), fish, shellfish and soya beans.
The state of the digestive tract and
age of the child when first exposed
to the offensive food are equally
Halting the allergy march
If we cannot change our genes, we
have to change the environmental
factors. Here are some measures
that can help halt the allergy
Exclusively breastfeed your child
for at least the first six months of
life. Breast milk proteins are not
considered as foreign proteins by
your child's immune system. In fact,
breast milk has a long-term preventive effect against non-food
allergies. However, nursing mothers are advised to abstain from
highly allergenic foods themselves
as traces of offending proteins from
these foods may reach the breast
If you are unable to breastfeed
due to medical reasons, use a scientifically proven hypoallergenic formula that helps to prevent the
development of allergy. Although
this formula contains cow's milk,
the proteins have been modified
with gentle heat and enzymatic
treatment so that they are now safe
and do not trigger allergies.
However, if your child has
already been confirmed with cow's
milk protein allergy (CMPA), he
would need another type of hypoallergenic formula, which is specifically designed for treating allergy.
Do not use goat's milk or similar milks as the proteins are very closely related to cow's milk and as such
may provoke allergic reactions.
Soy protein formulas have no role
in the prevention of allergic diseases, so do not use them for prevention.
Moreover, 15-50% of infants who are allergic to cow's milk are also allergic to
Delay the introduction of solid
foods until your baby is at least six
months old, when his digestive
tract and immune system are better
developed. Stay away from highly
allergenic foods like shellfish, eggs
and nuts during the first year.
Introduce only one new food at a
time to allow any adverse reactions
to be traced easily.
Stop smoking during pregnancy
as it may have adverse effects on
infant lung development. Children
should also not be exposed to cigarette smoke at all, especially in con-
Parents should make every effort
to prevent allergy in their children
because once triggered, the allergy
march might just go on, and
adversely affect your quality of life.