All About Baby Allergies

This content has been clinically reviewed by Jennifer Shih, M.D.

A fussy little one often sends parents scrambling for the nearest bottle, burping cloth or clean diaper,  but these common signs of discomfort—as well as baby’s runny nose, skin rash or gas—could actually be signs of a less common condition: infant allergies.

All children are susceptible to allergies—and everything from pet hair to dust to cow’s milk can trigger them.  Most allergy symptoms make their first appearance in infancy or early childhood, and kids with a family medical history of allergies are more likely to be affected.

Allergies are triggered when our bodies’ immune systems go into attack-mode against an otherwise harmless substance, like food or dust. This reaction triggers an immune response that can lead to runny noses, hives and upset tummies.

When it comes to combatting allergies, early detection is key to helping improve your growing baby’s quality of life. And knowing what signs and symptoms to look for can help you and your pediatrician nail down a diagnosis and determine what course of treatment is best.

Read on to learn more. 

Food Allergies

Food allergies are the most common types of allergies in children under 12 months, and the most common triggers include milk, eggs, wheat, nuts, soy, fish and shellfish (for breastfed babies, exposure to these foods comes from mom’s diet). Some babies can develop an intolerance to formula, as well, while others may begin to show signs after being introduced to more solid foods at around 6 to 9 months.

If your baby is consistently fussy, gassy, bloated or appears to have other stomach problems after eating, it could mean that she has developed a food intolerance or allergy.

Also keep an eye out for:

  • Indications of tummy pain and stomach upset, vomiting, diarrhea, gas
  • Coughing
  • Rash, hives or eczema
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Swelling

If you suspect your baby is unable to tolerate certain foods, or may be developing a full-blown allergy, bring it up with your pediatrician.

In rare and severe cases, a baby with a food allergy can experience anaphylaxis – a serious, sometimes life-threatening allergic reaction characterized by wheezing, dizziness, swelling of the skin, lips or face, breathing trouble, sweating, rapid pulse and pale skin. If you think your baby is having a severe allergic reaction, call 911 right away. 

Environmental Allergies

Environmental allergies include everything from pollen and dust mites, to pet dander, soaps, detergents and fragrances. They're less common in babies than food allergies because it typically takes about a year for a baby to develop sensitivities to these substances, but they can trigger allergy symptoms as your baby gets older and enters toddlerhood.

Keep an eye out for:

  • Frequent ear infections
  • Itchy eyes or nose
  • Runny nose or congestion
  • Eczema or other skin rash
  • Irritability or fussiness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Conjunctivitis (red eyes)

In general, small children may outgrow some food allergies. Environmental allergies, however, tend to stick around.

Preventing Flare-Ups

Allergy symptoms are triggered by exposure to the allergen, which means reducing or eliminating that exposure is the best way to prevent and eliminate flare-ups. Determining what that trigger is, though, can be tough.

Consider keeping track of your child’s symptoms in a journal – record what the symptom is, when it occurred and how often, as well as any other factors you think might be relevant. What did you feed your baby right before? Do her symptoms seem to occur in conjunction with cuddles from the family pet? Are her symptoms worse after coming in from a walk, or after you’ve cleaned the house? Jotting these things down can also help when speaking to your child’s doctor. 

And speaking of cleaning the house – try and keep the dust and pet dander to a minimum. If environmental allergens are the cause for your little one’s unpleasant symptoms, regular cleaning can help keep them at bay. Also, make your home a smoke-free environment, use gentle, hypoallergenic, fragrance-free soaps, cleansers and detergents, avoid carpeting where possible and use dust-mite-proof mattress covers and pillowcases.

Related: Spring Cleaning Tips to Prevent Allergies and Asthma

Studies have also shown that breastfeeding your baby for at least 6 months can help reduce the likelihood of allergies.

Also, a quick note about peanuts: Recently, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease released new guidelines recommending that babies 6 months and younger be given soft, pureed finger foods containing peanut powder or extract to help prevent the development of a peanut allergy as they get older.

Of course, your first step should be consulting with your pediatrician. He or she can help root out other potential causes of your baby’s symptoms, and if necessary, refer you to a pediatric allergist for further evaluation, testing and treatment. 

This content is general information and is not specific medical advice. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the health of a child. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away. Some physicians and affiliated healthcare professionals on Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta team are independent providers and are not our employees.