An allergy is the immune system’s reaction to certain plants, animals, foods, insect bites, or other things we come in contact with through our environment, particularly in the air. The immune system can react differently to these substances depending upon our individual genetics. Most children and adults are unaffected by these substances, which we call allergens. For some children, however, these allergens can make life miserable.
Children can be allergic to many things.
- insect bites and stings
- dust mites
- a protein found in the dander, saliva and urine from cats, dogs, horses, rabbits and other furry animals
- grass, flower, and tree pollen
- mold and mildew
- foods, such as milk, wheat, soy, eggs, nuts, seafood, and legumes, which include peas, beans, and peanuts
- latex (found in balloons, gloves and other plastics)
Some allergens, such as foods, are a problem all year long. But others might bother people only during certain seasons. For instance, your child might be allergic to pollen from certain flowers or trees, which is present in the air only during a certain time of the year, such as spring.
Sources of Allergies
The human immune system protects us from diseases by fighting against intruding bacteria and viruses (what we all refer to as “germs”). Likewise, when a person experiences allergies, their immune system is abnormally trying to “fight” substances in the environment which are normally harmless. This response can be intense because these people have over-reactive immune systems. Their bodies produce histamines and other inflammatory substances, which can cause sneezing, itching, or other detrimental reactions like swelling, watery eyes, rashes or wheezing. The severity of these reactions varies from person to person.
People can have a genetic pre-disposition to develop allergies from their environment, and onset can occur when they are babies, children, teens, or adults. According to the AAP, “if one parent, brother, or sister has allergies, there is a 25% chance that a child will also have allergies. The risk is much higher if both parents are allergic. But the child will not necessarily be allergic to the same substances as the parents or always show the same type of allergic disease.” Allergies often decrease in older people, and many people also outgrow food allergies. Other allergies can last your whole life, although they may be less severe and more severe at different points in your life.
Some allergens cause sneezing, a runny nose, itchy eyes and ears, and a sore throat. Other items on the list, such as foods, may cause hives, itchy skin rash, a stuffy nose, stomach cramps, vomiting, or diarrhea.
Allergens can also cause more severe, even life-threatening problems like wheezing and shortness of breath (asthma), swelling of the tongue, mouth or throat, or in extreme cases, anaphylactic shock.
If your child experiences any of the following, it is important to seek medical attention immediately by calling 911:
1. Labored breathing, shortness of breath, blue lips or nails
2. Unconsciousness, extreme lethargy or weakness
3. Swelling of the tongue, mouth or throat
Allergies or a Cold?
The symptoms of colds and allergies can be similar. If your child’s cold symptoms last more than 2 weeks, your child probably has an allergy instead of a cold. If your child demonstrates any or all of the following conditions, it is important to schedule an appointment to talk to us about the problem:
· Persistent sneezing and itching
· skin problems like rashes or swelling,
· persistent cough, or intermittent wheezing, or difficulty catching their breath
· often gets stomach cramps, headaches, nausea, dizziness or wheezing after eating certain foods.
During this office visit we will ask you a lot of questions about your child’s health, about the animals and plants in your home, and about the foods your family eats. Your answers will provide clues about what your child might be allergic to, and help us assess whether antibody testing, allergy testing, and other measures are necessary.
Precautions – Taking Control of your Environment
Controlling the environment by keeping your child away from allergens might be enough to control your child’s allergy. Some children however require allergy medications, and more specific measures such as allergy shots or breathing treatments to manage their symptoms.
Unfortunately, shots and most medicines don’t help with food allergies. People with food allergies have to learn to avoid any foods that have the ingredients they’re allergic to. Luckily, many kids outgrow allergies to milk, eggs, wheat, and soy. But allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, and seafood usually last and can be very severe and life threatening. If you suspect your child may have food allergies, it is important to schedule a visit with us as soon as possible.
Here are some everyday precautions everyone should take to minimize allergens in the home:
Pets. Furry pets are among the most common and potent causes of allergy symptoms. If your child is allergic to an animal, it can help to keep pets out of the child’s bedroom, bathe the animal once a week, or have the animal live outside. You’ll also want to avoid pets at other people’s homes. In many cases, it is necessary to find a new home for the pet. For more information on how to reduce the effect household pets can have on your child’s allergies, CLICK HERE.
Dust and mites. Dust mites are the main source of allergens in house dust. For more information on how to control mites and diminish their effect on your child’s allergies, CLlCK HERE.
Mold. Molds grow almost anywhere and can be found in any part of a home. Common places where molds grow include the following:
· Damp basements
· Showers and tubs
· Air conditioners and humidifiers
· Garbage pails
· Carpets (especially if wet)
Children who live in moldy places are more likely to develop allergies, asthma, and other health problems. To address problems with mold,
· Keep the surfaces in your home dry.
· Throw away wet carpets that can’t be dried.
· Keep air conditioners and humidifiers clean and in good working order.
· Use exhaust fans in the kitchen and the bathroom to help keep the air dry.
· Avoid using items that are likely to get moldy, like foam rubber pillows and mattresses.