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'Why do children born in Australia have food allergies while those born in India don't?'

Food Allergy

Food allergies are becoming more and more common in children of Indian sub-continental background who are born in Australia. Paediatrician Raj Khillan says almost all parents ask him why their children suffer from these allergies whilst no one else in their family ever had them before.

"The most common allergies found in Australian children are from cow milk protein, eggs, seafood and nuts like cashew, almond, pistachio and peanuts," says paediatrician Dr Raj Khillan.

But he says most parents wonder why and how their children developed this, whilst they themselves never complained of any food allergy while growing up in India.

"Well, it is to do with the hygiene hypothesis, as well as with our genetic make-up," says Dr Khillan.

"Whilst growing up in India, our immune system developed to a much larger extent because of it's exposure to that environment. The same doesn't happen here in Australia, because of the levels of cleanliness and hygiene."

"Another thing is that in India, we generally only consumed buffalo's milk, whereas here in Australia, cow's milk is most commonly available. I come across many people who are intolerant to cow's milk and generally recommend that they have rice milk, soy milk or goat milk instead. There are options like almond milk, cashew milk and even camel's milk is available in Western Australia and Northern Territory."

But Dr Khillan warns that food allergies can be life-threatening, and everything must be done to prevent a severe onset.

"Nut and seafood allergies are potentially the most dangerous. In some children, it may only cause blotches to appear or you may see some swelling in the body. In more severe cases, the child can suffer from anaphylaxis - when they have difficulty in breathing, vomiting or a situation where they can't speak or even cry."

"You must call 000 immediately if you recognise signs of an anaphylactic reaction because this can prove to be fatal. The child needs immediate medical help."

As for prevention, Dr Khillan says, "the theory is now to go backwards in time, and introduce solid foods to the child as early as possible."

"In earlier days we used to do that, but in more recent times, parents were being asked to introduce solids after 6 months of age. But research now shows that if the child starts consuming solids at 3-4 months of age, the immune system develops much better."

"We also recommend that a mother feeds breast milk to her infant for the first 12 months, because amongst other benefits, it also reduces the chances of having a food allergy."

To hear the full interview in Punjabi, click on the audio link above.

Please note, this is a regular monthly segment on children's health and care. If there is a particular topic you'd like us to cover, please email

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