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You have allergic rhinitis and sneeze every morning when you wake up. You battle constantly against dust and dirt. Cigarette smoke makes your nose itch and eyes tear. One day you realise that your husband had childhood asthma! Is your child also meant to have an allergy?

History, herstory

Diseases such as eczema, asthma and allergic rhinitis are hereditary conditions, and if you have these, you probably have a strong family history of the same. Hence if either your or your spouse has an allergy, it increases the risk of Junior developing allergies.

If both of you have this history, Junior is 50-75% more likely to develop some kind of allergy, as genetic contribution from each of you has an cumulative effect.

However, the unique combination of genes your child receives from both of you, and its interaction with lifestyle and environment factors can also influence his propensity to develop allergies.

So before any allergies begin, you can take primary measures to protect your unborn or newborn baby. Here are 8 ways:

#1 Give birth naturally

Even before the birth of the baby, you can help to determine your newborn’s risk of developing allergies. Preliminary studies conducted by the University of California found that delivery via Caesarean-section has a negative effect on baby’s immune system as compared to that of vaginal delivery.

That is, they have weaker bodies and are more prone to developing an allergy. So choose a natural vaginal birth if possible!

#2 Use probiotics

Probiotics are healthy bacteria of the gut and are present in yoghurt and cultured milk drinks. Said Dr. Y T Pang, Senior ENT & Allergy Consultant, Centre for Ear Nose Throat Allergy & Snoring, “(Probiotics) has been shown to decrease the risk of allergy in babies. These are bacteria that colonize the gut and replace its flora. They include strains such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, Lactobaacillus acidophilus, and Bifidobacteria bifidum. They stimulate the immune system so that allergy response is diminished.”

#3 Breastfeed

Dr Pang advises that “Breast milk delivers many factors that help in the maturation of the baby. It also contains anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory substances against pathogenic bacteria in the baby’s gut.” Additionally, the age of weaning should preferably be between 4 to 6 months. Exclusive breast feeding up to 6 months will help in decreasing allergy. When weaning introduce new foods at 2 weekly intervals.

#4 Hypoallergenic milk formula

Use of hypoallergenic formula instead of standard infant cow’s milk formula is recommended if exclusive breastfeeding is not possible for the first 4 months. Hypoallergenic formula contains pre-digested proteins which help to reduce the risk of allergies such as cow’s milk allergy.

There are mainly 2 types of whey or casein based hypoallergenic formula in the market

  • extensively hydrolysed formula (eHF)
  • partially hydrolysed formula (pHF)

The large “German Infant Nutritional Intervention Study” has shown that allergies were significantly lower in babies fed with the extensively hydrolysed casein formula. Babies fed with artially hydrolysed whey formula also showed some immunity against eczema.

#5 Wean later

Weaning is preferably done between 4-6 months of age. Dr Pang says highly allergenic foods such as shrimp, peanuts, and egg whites should be avoided before age 3. Also avoid egg and soya for the first year of life.

#6 Fish for oil

The use of fish oil to supplement omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) has also been found to be helpful in both brain development in the newborn and reduce the risk of allergies.

Omega 3 PUFA are found in fish such as salmon, sardines, tuna, cod and even green leafy vegetables, nuts, soya bean oil and tofu. Parents should consume this too as it helps to protect against stroke and heart attacks!

#7 Don’t smoke

Exposure to smoke and smoking should be avoided during pregnancy and early childhood. Smoking can lead to more respiratory infections and bronchial hyperreactivity which is a feature of asthma attacks.

#8 Keep pets?

Dander (small skin flakes) of cats and dogs and their saliva can cause allergy. However some research shows that an early life exposure to pets in childhood actually has a protective effect against developing animal allergies, as allergy-related antibodies have been produced and the immune system may be skewed away from developing an allergic profile. But Dr Pang cautions that excess exposure to dust mites, pets and pollution increase risks
of allergy.

If you’ve already got your baby covered with the above, breath easy! You can spend more time on yourself on. LWB

Steps 2 and beyond

What happens if the allergy has already developed? We should then take secondary prevention measures for c hildren with early symptoms of allergic disease. These measures include:

  • Change bed linens and pillow cases regularly and wash bedding in hot water to kill house dust mites
  • Avoid the use of carpets and curtains in the house as these accumulate dust and allergens
  • Mop and vacuum the floor frequently
  • Toys should be chosen carefully. Furry stuffed toys should be avoided
  • Dehumidifiers and air purifiers can be used to reduce humidity and dust mite concentrations in the air

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