Four weeks after Owen Arthur Adams was born, his mother Jessica Adams noticed something strange. Owen was crying unusually and he had mucousy stools. Jessica, a midwife from Derbyshire, England, knew these were out of the ordinary. By six weeks, her boy had constant spells of crying, loose stools and mild eczema. She didn’t wait any longer. She consulted a physician who suspected the infant could have a food allergy.
“The physician advised me to remove dairy, soy, beef and egg from my diet as I was breastfeeding at the time,” says Jessica. She was asked to wait for a few weeks to see if her son’s symptoms improved.
Soon enough, Owen showed signs of improvement. After a few weeks, each of these foods was reintroduced to him individually via breastmilk. Owen was diagnosed with allergies to soy, dairy and egg.
Soy allergy occurs because of hypersensitivity to the compounds in soy that cause an overreaction of the immune system. It is typically seen with physical symptoms such as respiratory distress or a skin reaction, says Dr Balakrishna G K, senior consultant, head of department, internal medicine, BGS Gleneagles Global Hospital, Bengaluru. “Of the eight foods that cause allergic reactions in both children and adults, soy and milk products are behind the most frequently seen food allergies,” he says.
Dr Balakrishna explains that soy allergy is an immune system-mediated response to soy foods that happens minutes to hours after soy consumption. “It takes just a tiny bit of food to start allergic reactions,” he says. He lists some of the most common symptoms of soy allergy:
- Tingling sensation or itching in and around the mouth
- Swelling of the lips, tongue, face, throat or other parts of the body
- Hives, itching or eczema
- Cough, wheezing or trouble breathing
- Nasal congestion
- Abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea
- Dizziness, light-headedness or fainting
- Anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction that happens immediately after consuming the food)
Treatment of soy allergy
Dr Balakrishna says that avoidance is the best preventive measure. However, an individual may unknowingly come in contact with the food, causing an allergic reaction. In such a case, the person or the parent must be equipped to make the right decision.
- For mild to moderate allergy: Over-the-counter or prescribed antihistamines are helpful.
- For severe allergy: One must always carry an adrenaline autoinjector as per his/her allergist’s recommendation. If there is a severe reaction or anaphylaxis, inject adrenaline/epinephrine in the appropriate dosage. If there is no access to the autoinjector, get to the closest hospital as soon as possible.
Jessica says that Owen, who is now eight months old, has Non-IgE allergies which means he reacts a few hours after consuming the food, unlike IgE allergies that happen immediately after ingestion. “We do not need an EpiPen (auto-injector for adrenalin) because his reactions are not severe. We prevent any reactions by being careful with his diet and avoiding the allergies altogether,” she says.
Will children outgrow food allergies?
Dr Balakrishna says that food allergies cannot be cured, however, in some children, the allergies may go away as they become older. “Typically, allergic reactions first appear in infants and children under three years. Most of them outgrow the allergy by ten years,” he says.
Jessica says that she was aware of food allergies as her first child too had them. “My firstborn had a dairy and egg allergy. I was often told by healthcare professionals that his symptoms were ‘normal’ when they were not. But he outgrew this by the time he was three years old,” she tells Happiest Health.
Dr Sant Lal Verma, an allergy and chest physician from Uttar Pradesh and a member of the Indian College of Allergy, Asthma and Applied Immunology, says that though soy allergy occurs mostly during childhood, there are adults whose bodies might not tolerate it.
Dr Verma recalls the case of a 22-year-old man he treated six months ago. “He presented with a mild allergic reaction after the consumption of soy. He was not aware of what triggered the allergy,” says Dr Verma. As it was a mild allergy, the man was made to consume possible food allergens, under medical supervision. “That’s when we identified that he was allergic only to soybeans. We advised him to avoid soy products and check the labelling before consuming any products.”
What can parents do?
“Often a soy allergy is accompanied by a dairy allergy as the proteins (present in both) are very similar. So, I would advise removing both from the diet and trying them again separately. Also, soy is present in a lot of food; it is often used as a thickener. So always check the labels,” says Jessica.