Allergies are very common – roughly 50 million Americans have some form of allergy. It’s common for allergies to develop during childhood. By diagnosing allergies early, you can protect your kids from having a reaction. This could be particularly important when it comes to serious allergies.
What are allergies – and what causes them?
Our body’s immune system is designed to help repel harmful substances such as bacteria and viruses. Our eyes water and our nose runs to repel substances away from our eyes and nose. Our airways are constricted to prevent harmful substances entering our lungs. Rashes and hives help to repel substances away from the skin. Diarrhea and vomiting meanwhile helps to get harmful substances out of our stomach and gut.
Sometimes our immune system malfunctions and starts trying to repel substances that aren’t overly harmful such as pollen or peanuts. This is pretty much what an allergy is – an immune system malfunction.
It’s unknown as to why this malfunction occurs. Studies show a link between air pollution levels and a higher risk of developing allergies – people living in more polluted areas tend to develop more allergies. However, allergies can develop in people living in rural areas too. Often you’re more likely to develop an allergy if one of your parents has it.
Types of allergies
Kids can develop allergies to all kinds of things. It would be impossible to list every potential allergen – you can practically become allergic to anything.
Some triggers are definitely more common than others. Below is a detailed guide to some of the most common allergies and what to look out for.
Does your child get red eyes and start sneezing a lot during certain times of the year? It’s likely that they have a seasonal allergy. These are caused by the release of plant or fungus spores – an allergy that is often referred to as ‘hayfever’.
There are actually many different types of hayfever. You can get a better idea of the type of hayfever your child has by considering which season they suffer from reactions. Generally speaking, allergies in the following seasons are caused by the following triggers:
- Spring – tree pollen
- Summer – grass pollen
- Fall – weed pollen
- Winter – mold spores
Seasonal allergies usually only produce mild symptoms, but these symptoms are still likely to be very uncomfortable for your child. Encouraging your child to take antihistamines can help to prevent allergic reactions. These can be bought over the counter in many stores.
Kids are more likely to suffer hayfever symptoms while outdoors. There are apps that you can use to monitor local pollen levels – by using these apps, you may be able to determine how high the pollen levels are so that you can limit your child’s time spent outdoors.
A lot of kids develop allergies to cats or dogs. Contrary to popular belief, this is not an allergy to fur. Pet allergies are caused by dander – skin cells, urine and saliva which is shed along with fur.
Cat allergies are more common than dog allergies. In both cases, symptoms can be similar – your child may experience a runny nose, sneezing, itchy red eyes (conjunctivitis) and wheezing or difficulty breathing (asthma). Some kids may even experience rashes, hives or swelling.
You may be able to help your child get relief for allergic symptoms by encouraging them to take over-the-counter antihistamines. For more serious allergies that result in wheezing and breathing difficulties, it could be worth seeing a doctor and getting an inhaler prescribed. Creams and ointments can be used for rashes.
If your child has a pet allergy, you should try to avoid prolonged exposure to pets of that kind. Of course, this is easier said than done – if you’re not prepared to get rid of a beloved family pet, consider ways of improving the air quality in your home. Good ventilation and use of air purifiers, along with regular use of antihistamines, may be able to stave off an allergic reaction.
Some kids develop skin allergies. This is when certain substances come into contact with the skin and cause symptoms such as rashes, hives, swelling or dry itchy skin (eczema).
There are many different substances that can trigger skin allergies in kids. These include:
- Soaps and shampoos
- Fabric softeners and detergents
- Sun lotions
- Metals (particularly nickel)
A skin allergy could be unpleasant for your child. For this reason, it’s worth exploring different treatment options. Over-the-counter antihistamines can often alleviate mild skin allergy symptoms. When it comes to more serious rashes or eczema, you may have to see a doctor about prescribing specialist creams such as topical steroid cream.
Once you discover what the trigger is, you should try to avoid it however you can. This could include selecting a hypoallergenic shampoo or sticking to 100% cotton fabric clothing. Nowadays, it’s much easier to avoid these triggers as there are many hypoallergenic products on the market.
Sometimes skin allergies do not show up until adolescence. Certain jewellery metals, makeup or perfumes may be triggers that young children are unlikely to be exposed to.
Food allergies can be some of the most life-threatening allergies. Unfortunately, until your child tries a trigger food, you do not know which foods they are allergic to.
A mild food allergy is likely to result in your child experiencing itchiness around the mouth and possibly swelling of the lips and tongue. They may experience some stomach discomfort, which could be followed by nausea and vomiting or diarrhea. Mild food allergies may also cause wheezing, hives, itchy eyes and an itchy nose.
A serious allergy is known as anaphylaxis. Your child may experience all the above symptoms, but to a heightened level. They may have more serious trouble breathing, they may complain of serious pain and they may even fall unconscious. When this happens, you need to call an ambulance immediately. Get your child to lie down or put them in the recovery position if they are unconscious. Monitor their pulse and breathing (you hopefully won’t have to conduct CPR, but you should be prepared to if necessary).
A child can become allergic to any food. However, certain foods are more common than others. The most common foods include:
- Tree nuts
If your child develops a food allergy, it’s worth talking to a doctor about treatment options. For mild allergic reactions, your child may be able to take antihistamines. For a severe allergy, your child may benefit from going to a doctor and getting prescribed an EpiPen. This is a syringe that can inject a powerful dose of adrenaline to instantly fight allergy symptoms. As the parent, you will need to learn how to use this.
Once you’ve identified a food trigger, you should take strict measures to protect your child from exposure. This could include having to check ingredients on packaging. There are apps that help you to identify which foods you can eat. When dining out at restaurants, you should take particular care – a good restaurant will be able to tell you exactly which foods contain potential allergy ingredients.
There are other substances that you can become allergic to – some of which can have very serious effects. These are also worth being wary of.
For instance, it’s possible for a child to be allergic to certain forms of medication such as penicillin. This may cause anaphylaxis in some kids.
Some kids are also allergic to bee stings. Unless your child is stung by a bee, you won’t be able to tell if your child is allergic or not. Bee stings may lead to anaphylaxis making them something to be wary of.
Intolerances vs allergies
It’s important to know the difference between an intolerance and an allergy. An intolerance occurs when the gut cannot digest a certain type of food – quite often because of an enzyme deficiency. This is different to an allergy, which triggers the immune system.
Your child may have a food intolerance if there is no itchiness or swelling involved. Food intolerances also tend to have slower results. They can cause stomach pain and diarrhea, but may also cause constipation.
Should I see a doctor about my child’s allergy?
It may not be necessary to see a doctor about diagnosing mild allergies such as hayfever. Some people may like to have it on their medical record, but it’s not always essential.
More serious allergies that cause asthma or anaphylaxis are worth seeing a doctor about. This is so that you can get prescribed medication and so that you can have the allergy on your file, allowing medical professionals to act quickly if you are ever rushed to hospital.
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