1 in 3 Malaysians suffer from some form of allergy. In 60% of these cases, allergies show themselves during the first year of life. In Asia, the foods that are most commonly cause allergic reactions are eggs and cow’s milk, followed by seafood (fish and shellfish). If you have a family history of food allergy, you should be cautious when feeding baby certain types of food.
Food Allergy and Intolerance, and Its Prevalence
- When allergic to a food, the body’s immune system reacts to it as though it is toxic, releasing chemicals into the body’s tissues. The effects on the body can be quite major, even with tiny amounts of food
- This is a reaction to a substance in the food you’re eating. Unlike allergies, intolerance is not caused by your body’s system reacting to the food, and is generally less severe
- 1 out of 3 Malaysians is currently suffering from some form of allergy.
- One of the most common allergies is food allergy.
- 60% of allergies appear during the first year of life. Therefore it is important that prevention of allergies should focus on infants and young children.
- About 90% of the food allergies are caused by the following foods:
- Cow’s milk.
- Hen’s eggs.
- Tree nuts (eg. Almonds, cashews, macadamia, pecans, pine nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts and pistachios).
- Fish and shellfish.
- The remaining 10% are caused by a wide variety of foods.
- In Asia, the most common foods causing allergies are eggs and cow’s milk, followed by seafood (fish and shellfish).
- Peanut and tree nut allergy is comparatively much lower than those in western counties.
- Wheat allergy is also less common in Asian countries.
- The most common food intolerances are caused by:
- Dairy products (lactose).
- Citrus fruit.
- The good news is that food allergies are often outgrown during early childhood. It is estimated that 80% to 90% of egg, milk, wheat, and soy allergies go away by the time a child is 5 years old.
Signs of Food Allergy and Intolerance
- Food Allergy
- Symptoms of food allergy include:
- Skin reactions, such as redness, hives or dermatitis.
- Itchy mouth or eyes.
- Vomiting, stomach pain or diarrhoea.
- Nasal congestion.
- Swollen lips or tongue.
- Swollen face, including swelling of eyelids and face.
- Anaphylaxis, a severe and life threatening condition. Your child might have a persistent cough, wheezing, hoarse voice, shortness of breath and difficulty swallowing. The child might even pass out.
- Thesymptoms of delayed-onset food allergies appear more than four hours after a child comes into contact with the food and sometimes many days later.
- Symptoms of delayed-onset food allergies include vomiting, diarrhoea and stomach cramps.
- Food Intolerance
- Symptoms of food intolerance include:
- Stomach pain
- Skin redness and dermatitis
- It often has a delayed onset
Speak to your doctor about it if you suspect your child is having a food allergy and intolerance.
How to Avoid Food Allergy and Intolerance
- If you have a family history of allergies, you may want to practice the “4-day-wait” rule:
- Introduce new foods, one food at a time, spaced 4 days apart.
- Keep a diary/ journal and record the type of new food introduced each time, and if any adverse reactions occur.
- When your baby is around 9 to 10 months old, you can start to loosen the “4-day-wait” rule. However, it’s still important to pay attention to the new foods you offer your baby, especially those that pose an allergy risk. As always, you should consult with your baby’s doctor if you have any concerns about a particular type of food.
Beware of allergenic foods
- You can introduce highly allergenic foods to your baby after 6 months, as there is no evidence that you should do so later than that. However, if you have family history of allergies, you need to be cautious about it.
- Look for potential allergenic ingredients in food while shopping for food products.
For further information on infant and child nutrition, please refer to
- MINISTRY OF HEALTH MALAYSIA (2013) Malaysian Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents. Putrajaya: Technical Working Group on Nutritional Guidelines (for National Coordinating Committee on Food and Nutrition).
- NUTRITION SOCIETY OF MALAYSIA (2011) Baby’s First Bites. Petaling Jaya: Mother’s Smart Choice.