Food allergy symptoms present very differently in babies than they do in toddlers and older children, and can be easy to confuse with the symptoms of colds, sensitive skin, and teething.

It’s important to be able to identify possible signs and symptoms of food allergies in babies as well as to know when to seek medical attention.

Allergic reactions happen almost immediately after eating or touching a food. In rare cases, however, reactions can happen up to 4 hours later. 

It’s best to feed your baby new foods on a day and time where you will be with them for a few hours afterwards.

What Food Allergies Look Like in Babies

The most common, and confusing, symptoms of an allergic reaction in a baby are:

  • redness around the mouth or skin that came into contact with saliva or the food
  • hives
  • stomach distress such as vomiting or diarrhea 
  • Runny or stuffy nose, sometimes with clear discharge
  • Redness or itchiness of the nose
  • Swelling of the face, including puffiness around the eyes

Redness around the mouth vs swelling of the face and eye area from an allergic reaction

Here’s the problem - babies get redness on their face all the time from saliva irritation and when they are teething. Teething or a virus can cause hives, vomiting / diarrhea or a runny nose.

If your baby has any of the symptoms above within a couple of minutes of trying a new food OR has two or more of the symptoms above, you should seek medical attention immediately.

Very rare, severe symptoms of an allergic reaction in a baby are:

  • Coughing/wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing 
  • Swelling of the mouth, including the lips and possibly tongue
  • Fever higher than 104 degrees or lower than 97 degrees
  • Swelling of the throat and difficulty swallowing
  • Weak pulse
  • Losing consciousness 

An important study showed that severe symptoms in babies under 12 months are extremely rare. The younger your baby, the less likely it is they'll have a severe reaction.

What To Do If Your Baby Has an Allergic Reaction

If your baby has a mild reaction, such as just redness around the mouth or hives, an age and weight appropriate amount of Zytrec aka Ceterizine (most likely 2.5ml) will reduce the reaction. Do not use Benadryl. Call your pediatrician’s office and stay with your baby. Most pediatricians have an on-call service to help you decide if additional help is needed. 

If your baby has a severe reaction such as coughing or wheezing, OR both skin symptoms and stomach symptoms, bring them to an urgent care or emergency room immediately for observation and help. 

Most parents don’t realize having two types of a mild reaction is considered a severe reaction. It means that your baby’s body is responding aggressively to the food, and a doctor should evaluate your baby to make sure the reaction has passed. 

After either a mild or severe reaction, your baby will be referred to a specialist to properly diagnose the food allergy and give you an action plan moving forward.