By Health Promotion Board in collaboration with Adj A/Prof Yeo Cheo Lian, Senior Consultant, Department of Neonatal and Developmental Medicine, Singapore General Hospital, Singapore.

Allergies can occur at any age, and they may be caused by food or elements in the environment. What’s an allergy? An allergy is when the immune system overreacts to normally harmless substances such as food, some medicine, venom from insects, and dust mites.

Food Allergy

The most common food allergen for children in Singapore is egg. Other common food allergies include:

  • Cow’s milk
  • Peanuts and other tree nuts
  • Wheat
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Soy
  • Sesame

Signs of Allergic Reaction to Food

Most allergic reactions are mild to moderate. Symptoms include itch in mouth, hives (itchy, red bumpy rashes that looks like mosquito bites), swelling of the face, eyes or lips, abdominal pain and vomiting. This usually occur within minutes up to 2 hours after eating the food. It can also occur on touching the food, or rarely by breathing in fumes during cooking of food.

Related: Inflammatory Skin Conditions

Other Types of Allergies

You may have heard of hay fever—a condition many people often confuse with the common cold but is actually a result of an allergic reaction to pollen. You may have friends who don’t have pets because they’re allergic to dogs or cats.

These are examples of allergies that are induced by environmental elements and such allergies can often cause or aggravate the following conditions:

  • Eczema
  • Contact dermatitis
  • Allergic rhinitis (hay fever)
  • Asthma


Eczema usually occurs on the scalp, face and body in infants and toddlers. As your child grows, these dry, itchy and red patches are often found on the neck, front of elbows and behind the knees.

While most types of eczema are not allergies, the condition can be aggravated when children are exposed to the elements that they are allergic to. Eczema can be worsened by contact with allergens such as dust mite and pet fur. Food allergies do not commonly trigger eczema. Eczema can also be aggravated by other triggers such as harsh soaps, cigarette smoke, changes in climate, sweat, insect bites, infection and stress.

Related: Contact Allergy

Contact Dermatitis

Unlike hives, these identical red itchy patches are confined to areas that are in direct contact with the allergen. This may include chemicals found in perfumes, cosmetics, detergents or plant substances such as poison ivy. In severe cases, the rashes may blister.

Related: Skin Disorders Caused by Cosmetics I


Children with asthma often have cough, tight chest or difficulty breathing. These signs are worse in the morning or at night and could also be due to exercise or physical activity. Common triggers include viral infections, cigarette smoke, house dust mites, animal fur, changes in weather condition, and even stress.

When to Seek Help

Regardless of the type of allergy you may suspect your child to have, please consult your doctor for advice if the symptoms persist.

Red flag: If your child is coughing persistently, has a hoarse voice, difficulty swallowing (i.e. swollen throat), swollen tongue, is breathing nosily (i.e. wheezing) and experiences trouble breathing, looks pale, sleeping or unconscious , the allergy is life-threatening. These are possible signs of anaphylaxis, which is more likely to happen to children with food allergies. Call 995 for an ambulance immediately.

Related: Children Emergencies

Diagnosing Allergies in Babies and Toddlers

Keep a diary of your little one’s symptoms and take note of the food your child consumes. Be very careful when introducing new food to your little one. Also pay attention to your child’s surroundings. If there’s a history of allergies in the family, do take note and inform your Paediatrician as well.

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Read these next:


  1. Dan Brennan, MD. (March 5, 2017). Allergies in Babies and Toddlers, Retrieved from
  2. Allergies (Child). Retrieved November 2018 from
  3. Nasreen Majid. Quick Facts about Childhood Allergies in Singapore. Retrieved November 2018 from
  4. Anjana Motihar Chandra. Allergic Rhinitis: Common in Children in Singapore. Retrieved November 2018 from
  5. Alison Joanne Lee, and Lynette Pei-Chi Shek. (May 2014). Food Allergy in Singapore: Opening a New Chapter. Singapore Med J. 2014 May; 55(5): 244–247. doi: 10.11622/smedj.2014065. Retrieved November 2018 from
  6. Food Allergy. Retrieved November 2018 from