London, Feb 1 : A new study has highlighted that the tendency of mothers to mistake their children's illnesses for a food allergy.
University of Portsmouth researchers, who carried out the study, have revealed that the number of mothers who believe their baby is allergic to some foods is out of proportion to the actual number found to be allergic. Contrary to popular belief, the researchers have found that the rate of food hypersensitivity is not rising.
During the 600,000-pound research, funded by the Food Standards Agency, Dr Carina Venter studied nearly all the babies born in one year in the Isle of Wight.
The study revealed that parents were too quick to assume that their children had an allergy or intolerance to a specific food. It also showed that food hypersensitivity had not increased since a previous study on the subject 20 years ago.
"People have become more aware of food allergies, particularly of peanut allergy. Mums tend to put down every rash, tummy ache, diarrhoea and crying to food allergy or intolerance," the Telegraph quoted Dr Venter as saying.
"I sympathise with them, it seems reasonable to blame the food when an infant screams or turns red in the face minutes after being fed it for the first time. Also, some babies might react strongly to some common foods and then outgrow this allergy or intolerance within a year or two," she added.
By the age of three, said Dr. Venter, about 75 per cent of the babies who were allergic to or intolerant of milk had outgrown their reaction, and half had outgrown their reaction to eggs.
While more than a third of parents (272) said that their child was allergic or intolerant to one or more foods during the study involving 807 babies, fewer than 60 babies were found to be allergic to any food by the age of three.
Dr. Venter also revealed that the most common allergies that had been observed during the study were to peanuts, eggs or milk.
She said that the main reason that parents gave for thinking that their child was allergic to a food was their child having a rash, itching or developing hives or eczema.
A gastro-intestinal effect-including the child developing a tummy ache, vomiting, diarrhoea, constipation or colic-was reported to be the second largest reason for reporting an allergy.
The third symptom highlighted by parents was a respiratory problem such as shortness of breath, asthma, wheeziness, a runny or itchy nose and coughing.
Four parents even said that their children would develop behavioural problems when they ate certain foods at the age of two, while 14 parents reported the same when their children were aged three.
"Parents tend to be relieved when they discover their child is not allergic or intolerant to anything," Dr Venter said.
Milk, eggs, fruits (mainly strawberries and citrus fruit), tomato and its sauce, additives (colourings and preservatives), wheat, peanuts, fish, and soya were the food that were most commonly blamed by mothers for causing a reaction.