Press Release on November 22, 2005
Expert advocates adoption of dietary prevention in the first year of life to lower the chance of the onset of allergic response
(22 November 2005, Hong Kong) The University of Hong Kong Public Opinion Programme conducted a survey on "Mother's awareness on baby allergy" in October 2005. The survey found that the incidence of allergy in babies is worrying. Amongst the 502 mothers who were phone-interviewed, nearly 40% (36%) of their 6-12 months old babies have in the past been diagnosed with allergic symptoms such as eczema and skin rash.
The survey revealed nearly 70% (66%) of the babies with the allergic symptoms were not successfully treated or the symptoms recurred (14% not successfully treated and 52% could be treated temporarily but recur from time to time). When asked about the management of these allergic symptoms, more than half (56%) of the respondents felt stressful as they did not know how to tackle the problem, or they felt they have exhausted all methods but without success. However, the remaining half (44%) of the mothers were not stressful as they did not consider those allergic symptoms as a problem or they believed that the symptoms would subside gradually. The survey results suggest a situation which deserves a high degree of concern.
Pediatrician Dr Alfred Tam Yat-cheung pointed out, "Allergy is very common in babies; yet, many parents have very low alertness in managing the allergic symptoms, and a lack of knowledge about food allergy. Very often they have misconceptions like "it will improve when the baby grows older". Some parents even try "popular traditional medicinal recipes" or "avoid certain food unnecessarily". These may lead to the loss of the best window of opportunity for treatment. If there is a delay in proper treatment, serious eczema can recur repeatedly during the first and second years of life, and will become more difficult to treat and hard to manage.
Dr Tam reminded parents that early dietary prevention is critical in balancing and training the immune system of the gut flora towards food tolerance. It can also control allergic conditions at an early stage, thus avoiding the problem from getting worse.
"There has been an increasing trend in the incidence of baby allergy in recent years. The earliest (before one-year old) manifestations are mostly skin problems like eczema and skin rash, etc and are generally food-induced." Dr Tam explained.
Since the gut and digestive systems of babies are immature, they cannot digest protein completely. A comparatively complete protein molecule entering a baby's gut will stimulate the baby's digestive immune system, triggering its allergic response, and will lead to different kinds of allergies.
Dr Tam added, "Of the three kinds of allergies (including asthma, allergic rhinitis and eczema), eczema is the earliest to appear, as early as in the first one and two months of age. Eczema that appears before one-year old is generally food-induced. If parents can detect the signs of eczema early and adopt dietary prevention during the first year of their babies' life, they can reduce the negative impacts of the problem on their children when they grow up. Early dietary prevention may lower their children's chance of the onset of other allergic problems."
Though majority of the mothers have a very low alertness of tackling baby allergy, almost all of them (97%) agreed that it is "important" to choose food carefully within the first year of life in order to prevent allergy. 70% even considered it as "very important". Yet, as many as 35% indicated that they did not know allergy is fundamentally caused by the hypersensitivity reaction in babies' immature immune system triggered by incoming allergens. Almost 40% (37%) of the respondents did not know breastfeeding or feeding with hypoallergenic (H.A.) formula could prevent and avoid stimulating babies' immune systems. As many as 45% of the respondents had never heard of H.A. infant formula or partially hydrolyzed formula.
Dr Tam said, "The most effective way to prevent allergy is exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life. Breast milk provides easily digestible proteins that are suitable for the body to absorb and won't trigger allergic responses."
Amongst the 502 respondents, nearly 30% have never tried to breastfeed their babies, and only 24% were able to exclusively breastfeed their babies for 2 months or longer.
Dr Tam indicated that those mothers who are not able to breastfeed their babies because of their job and other reasons can consider feeding their babies with H.A. formula, and partially or extensively hydrolyzed formula. H.A. formula is easier for baby to digest and absorb and can greatly reduce the degree of sensitivity, as the protein molecules are smaller. Studies show that H.A. formula can prevent the risk of developing allergies during infancy when their immune system is immature.
About child eczema and food allergy
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The above is released by CMPMedica on behalf of Nestle Hong Kong Limited