By Qbaby Founder & Naturopath Natasha Berman
Many parents seek out naturopathic advice when their children start to get itchy skin, eczema, have unhappy tummies, low immunity, or seem just ‘not right’. Often these same parents have a strong suspicion there is a trigger somewhere in their child’s diet or environment.
Reactivity (and sensitivity, and intolerance) is different from a true ‘allergy’. Allergy is an immune-mediated reaction that can be life-threatening (as in the case of anaphylaxis) or is at the very least usually rapid. Often, you know what your child’s true allergies are, because you can see the welts they get after eating a strawberry, see their nose and eyes itch when it’s pollen season, or they will tell you in no uncertain terms that their throat gets scratchy and irritated when they eat hazelnuts. Other forms of sensitivity and reactivity, including intolerances, are more subtle, and may not involve an immune reaction at all. I prefer to use the term ‘reactivity’, because even ‘sensitivity’ and ‘intolerance’ have come to mean very specific things.
Because of this difference, standard medical allergy tests that are wonderful (and essential) for determining true allergies, may not have turned up any answers for your tamariki if they don’t have any actual allergies! This doesn’t mean they aren’t reacting to something.
Reactions can come in many shapes and sizes. Common reactions to foods or food substances in children are digestive problems, skin reactions, and behavioural changes. Sometimes foods are not a cause, but are a contributing or exacerbating factor. Because reactivities are not the same as allergies, they can be slower to develop, and often aren’t immediate. The most sensitive people I have seen can be waiting up to four days for a flare-up from something they have eaten! This can make working things out on your own rather tricky!
Sometimes there is more than one ‘trigger’. Quite often people are frustrated with trying to be their child’s food detective, because they try removing ONE food from their child’s diet at a time. Sometimes at best they will see a slight improvement but not the miracle cure they had hoped for. Frequently, we see that people have more than one trigger. It may be that a person is very sensitive to dairy, for example, but also a little bit sensitive to certain preservatives and tomatoes. So in this case they might only have a significant flare-up or reaction when they’ve had a milkshake, a ham and cheese sandwich and picked all the ripe cherry tomatoes off the vine for immediate consumption!
Simple, fast, non-invasive and reliable naturopathic testing methods can offer so much information and pave the way forward to understanding your child’s reactivities and creating lasting solutions. Click here to read more about tests available.
Catering to Reactive Kids
Our children can be picky eaters at the best of times! If you have identified some problem foods that need to be removed from their diet for awhile, you’ll need some tips and strategies. Remember you’re not the first parent to face this, and many savvy parents before you have paved the way with fabulous ideas to share and make your job a whole lot easier. Like any change, it can feel overwhelmingly hard at first, but soon becomes second nature. Children are adaptable, despite what they may tell you, and better health and wellbeing is always worth the effort! Click here for detailed guidelines and diet tips.
Reactivities Are Not a Life Sentence
One of the most important points to make is that unlike true allergies, which can be lifelong (in some cases), reactivities are often not. This is especially true when under the care of a naturopath or health practitioner, people are guided through a process of Removing, Rebalancing, Reintroducing. This involves removing the trigger foods for a period of time, rebalancing immune function, nutrient levels, gut flora, and generally healing and re-balancing the body, and then systematically re-introducing the removed foods. This process is unique to each person, both in terms of the time frames and the natural medicines that may be useful for the healing process. Unfortunately many people simply take foods out of their diets and never do the work to determine why they are sensitive in the first place. This is not a long-term solution, and excluding foods from the diet must be done with real care and knowledge, especially in children who are rapidly growing and need maximum nutritional input!
Focus on Eczema
In our experience, the health of your skin can be related to underlying problems with foods, and can respond well to minimising the intake of reactive foods.
Eczema is also known as dermatitis (literally meaning inflammation of the skin), or atopic dermatitis (AD). Atopic simply means allergic, and often eczema that develops before 6 months may be the first manifestation of allergy. 75% of atopic eczema cases start before the age of 6 months, 90% before 5 years. In babies, it often starts with itchy, weepy, facial lesions, and can spread to patches anywhere in the body. In children, the most common areas of involvement are the elbow and knee flexures, but also wrists and ankles. In adults, it again can appear anywhere on the body. Often eczema is the first sign of allergy, and many children with early eczema will develop allergic rhinitis (hayfever), asthma or food allergies.
For babies and children, identifying problem foods presents a safe and convenient way to understand factors that may be causing or contributing to skin problems. Click here to read a case study about a baby with eczema, and their healing journey.
Natural treatments for eczema focus on an inside/outside approach
This means working from both inside the body, by balancing an over-reactive immune system and balancing the gut flora, and outside the body, with healing creams.
Internally, herbal medicines are used that help to calm down the production of inflammatory chemicals and balance immune activity. Herbs such as Albizzia are naturally anti-allergic, while herbs such as Burdock are naturally cleansing and have been used for centuries for healing itchy skin conditions. Giving herbs to children and babies needs a very specific approach, as their taste buds are rather sensitive! That’s why drops work so well. They taste yummy, and can be hidden in food if needed. Key nutrients for eczema include essential fatty acids and zinc, as well as specific strains of probiotics shown in studies to reduce eczema in children.
Using natural creams that heal and support tissues (rather than further degrading them) is essential for any eczema treatment. Gentle creams that are non-reactive are ideal for use on young skin, and ingredients such as Chickweed are specific for healing itchy irritated tissues. QDerma Cream also has a gentle antimicrobial action to help balance skin flora and control bacterial overgrowths that can contribute to eczema.
Special tricks for calming the itch are also key for kids with irritated skin! Click here for tried and tested ideas to add to the bath to help keep your children itch-free for a more peaceful night’s sleep. You’ll be surprised what you can find in your kitchen pantry!
So, if you have a child that seems to be reactive – don’t despair!
There is so much support available to help you figure out what’s going on and find a way forward. Trust your intuition. If you think something’s amiss, it probably is. Testing is easy, fast and painless. With the right help on board you can work systematically towards supporting your child to be their happiest, healthiest most robust self. This will not only serve them well now, but create a strong foundation for truly flourishing as they grow into their place in the world.