How to identify and treat allergies in your child
From the common cold to ear infections, most parents and caregivers know that being sick is a normal part of childhood. For the most part, common conditions like a cold or the flu are temporary. However, for some children, there are illnesses that come back time and time again and maybe labeled as chronic—such as childhood allergies. At its most basic definition, an allergy is simply an overreaction of the immune system to a substance that is harmless to most people. The things that cause an allergic reaction are called allergens. When a child has allergies, the body attacks these allergens causing physical reactions that range from mild to fatal.
The physical symptoms of allergies can include:
- Skin rashes, red rash around the mouth, or hives (atopic dermatitis or eczema)
- Tightness in the throat, wheezing and difficulty breathing (including asthma)
- Sneezing, coughing, a runny nose or itchy eyes
- Swelling of the face, legs, or arms
- Upset stomach including diarrhea, nausea or vomiting
Allergic reactions can be caused by many sources including outdoor allergens from tree pollen, insect bites or stings, from indoor sources like pet animal hair, dust mites or mold, from general irritants like cigarette smoke, perfume or car exhaust, from certain foods like peanuts, eggs, milk and milk products, and from certain common drugs like penicillin.
The most common types of childhood allergies include the following:
Allergic rhinitis (commonly known as hay fever): One of the most common childhood allergies, allergic rhinitis can cause inflammation in sinuses resulting in extreme nasal congestion and sinus pressure. Other symptoms include itchiness in the eyes, nose, mouth, and throat along with coughing and sneezing. Commonly known as hay fever, allergic rhinitis is caused by the pollen of ragweed, grasses, trees, and other plants. Symptoms may also begin with exposure to indoor and outdoor mold, household and construction dust, and animal dander (dead skins scales and saliva) from dogs and cats. Children and their families that have other allergic conditions like eczema or asthma are also more likely to get hay fever. Hay fever is most prominent in spring but can occur throughout the year. Both seasonal and indoor allergies can lead to chronic ear infections.
Food allergies: It’s estimated that as many as 6 million children in the United States have some form of food allergy with nearly 40 percent being allergic to more than one food. The most common food allergies for children include peanuts and milk. Other foods that can trigger allergic reactions include eggs, fish, shellfish (crab, lobster, crayfish and shrimp), soy, tree nuts ( pecans, cashews and walnuts) and wheat. Of this list, the most severe reactions have been seen in allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish—all allergies that can last a lifetime. However, children can often outgrow allergies to milk, eggs, soy, and wheat. The most important thing a parent or caregiver should know is that a food allergy can cause anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threating reaction that can impair breathing, cause a sudden drop in blood pressure and can send a body into shock. Due to the extreme danger r of this condition, most children with food allergies are prescribed epinephrine (adrenaline) that can be administered with an auto-injector when symptoms first develop. If a child exhibits any signs of anaphylaxis, seek medical care right away.
Remember that if a child is diagnosed with a food allergy, he or she must stay away from the problem food, even tiny amounts. Parents and caregivers should always check food labels for hidden ingredients, like peanut oil, and take extra care when ordering meals at restaurants.
Allergic skin conditions: The most common allergic skin reaction is hives—a rash that causes itchy, swollen bumps that can last for minutes or days, mainly showing up around a child’s eyes and lips (but they can also show up on hands, feet or other body parts). Hives can be caused by certain foods, pollen, animal dangder, certain drugs, insect stings, cold, heat, light or even stress. Other allergic skin conditions include eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, with symptoms that include itchy, red, and dry skin caused by inflammation.
Drug allergies: Parents and caregivers should know that a child can become allergic to a medication the first time it is taken or after taking it many times. The most common drug allergy is the antibiotic penicillin, but other antibiotics can cause problems as well. There is also a small percentage of people that have reactions to aspirin, including sensitivity or intolerance.
Insect sting allergies: Venom from bees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, and fire ants can cause allergic reactions. In fact, some children (and adults) have severe reactions to stings and can go into anaphylaxis shock. Be aware that if a child has a food allergy, he or she might be more likely to react to an insect sting.
If you suspect your child has an allergy of any kind, educate yourself on the type of allergy and what you can do to help treat and/or prevent exposure to the allergens your child is allergic to. Always check with a medical professional for more information.
To learn ways to reduce common allergens in your home, school or daycare setting, visit https://www.webmd.com/allergies/allergies-babies-toddlers#3
To learn more about children’s food allergies, visit https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/food-allergies-in-children.
To learn more about allergy shots for children, visit https://www.verywellhealth.com/are-allergy-shots-safe-treatments-for-children-82690.
Visit abcquality.org to learn more about child care and development, search for ABC Quality approved child care provider and learn about the state’s voluntary quality rating system. ABC Quality is administered by the SC Department of Social Services’ Division of Early Care and Education.
By ABC Quality Team on May 26, 2020