A lot of research over recent years has focused on the prevention of the development of allergies in children as the number of people with allergic diseases has risen dramatically over the last century, with the prevalence of asthma doubling between 1970 to 1990 in Australia, New Zealand, United States and much of Europe. While there is still much research to be done to confirm whether we can actually prevent the development of allergies in children, the following suggestions have been made by the Australasian Society for Clinical Immunology and Allergy to reduce the risk of children becoming allergic.
- Identify which infants are at increased risk of developing allergies (family history of allergy or asthma).
- Do not smoke during pregnancy, around the child, or in spaces where the child spends time, such as inside the house or inside the car.
- Where possible, breastfeed your child (dietary restrictions for the mother during pregnancy or breastfeeding are not recommended to prevent allergies).
- Consider hydrolysed formula rather than conventional cow’s milk formula in high risk infants unable to breastfeed.
- Delay the introduction of solids until 6 months of age (it is also common practice to avoid egg until 12 months, and peanuts, tree nuts and shellfish until 2-4 years of age, however there is no evidence at this stage to show that it can prevent food allergies).
- It is unclear whether avoiding house dust mite exposure (see allergen avoidance) prevents the development of house dust mite allergy.
- There is conflicting evidence regarding exposure to or avoidance of furry pets for the prevention of allergies. For the purposes of allergy prevention, it is not necessary to remove pets, and it is also not necessary to get new pets to prevent allergies in children.
- Further research is required to explore the role of probiotics, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids for allergy prevention, as well as whether vaccines against certain viral infections such as respiratory syncytial virus can prevent the development of asthma.
- Allergy prevention in children. ASCIA Education Resource. Australasian Society for Clinical Immunology and Allergy. 2005. Available at: http://www.allergy.org.au/aer/infobulletins/allergy_prevention.htm.
- Tovey, E. Kemp, A. Allergens and allergy prevention: Where to next? JACI. 2005; 116(1): 119-21.