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There is nothing worse than seeing your child suffer from allergies without knowing how to help. Sometimes allergies are inherited, but many times they can come from out of the blue. The first step to helping is knowing what to look for. Here are some of the most common allergies experienced by children, symptoms they will experience, and ways to prevent them.
Food allergies are very common in children and can range in severity. They can develop at any age, and a baby may even become sensitive to food in their mother’s breast milk. Some of these allergies (milk, egg, soy, and wheat) may be outgrown, but others last a lifetime.
Common food allergies
The most common food allergies in children are peanuts, milk, and dairy products. Other frequent triggers include: eggs, fish, shellfish, soy, tree nuts, and wheat (gluten). Symptoms include:
- wheezing or shortness of breath
- itchy skin or rash
- swollen lips and throat
- runny or blocked nose
- itchy throat and tongue
- sore red itchy eyes.
If your child suffers from a food allergy you should also be aware of anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention as it impairs breathing, causes a sudden drop in blood pressure, and sends the body into shock.
Preventing food allergies
Breast milk composition can impact allergy development in children, but the best way to prevent food allergies is by gently introducing very small amounts into your child’s diet. This can be done as they begin experimenting with solid foods at around 6 months old, taking care to watch for any reactions.
Earlier this year the FDA approved a new drug called Palforzia, which is currently undergoing trials to desensitize children’s immune systems to accidental peanut exposure. Unfortunately, until these types of drugs are approved, if your child has an allergy, then you will have to rely on preventing the allergen entering their diet. In an ideal world it is best to make things at home, with fresh ingredients so that you know what is in it, but I know that isn’t always possible. When eating out, or grabbing things on the go, make sure to read labels very carefully. Sometimes ingredients are hidden in unexpected places. If there is no label, don’t feed it to you allergic child.
Allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and chronic nasal congestion
This is the most common allergy suffered by both adults and children. Symptoms are similar to a cold and include: runny itchy nose, sneezing, sore throat, and congestion, with itchy, watery, red eyes, and can develop into ear problems. Generally symptoms are triggered by pollen, dust, mites, dander (from pet fur), mold, or other allergens floating in the air. Milk, fragrances, and chemicals can also cause nasal symptoms. In more severe cases it can lead to chronic nasal congestion, forcing your child to breathe through their mouth. This can not only disturb sleep, but also the development of bones in the face and growth of teeth.
Additionally chronic congestion can lead to inflammation in the ears as fluid is accumulated. This promotes ear infections, which decrease hearing, and can lead to poor speech development. Children suffering from an ear infection experience earaches, ear itching, popping, and fullness. A typical sign seen in very young children is crying and rubbing or pulling on the ear.
Asthma and eczema
Asthma is often triggered by similar allergens as hay fever, leading to inflammation, swelling, narrowing of air passages, and production of extra mucus. This restriction of airflow leads to wheezing, difficulty breathing, coughing, and shortness of breath. Asthma can also be triggered by physical exertion, and should be considered during physical education at school.
Eczema is inflamed patches of skin that are dry and itchy. Often these patches are found around the elbows, behind the knees, and on the trunk of the body. The severity of the itching causes children to scratch, which leads to bleeding and infections. Eczema is most often triggered by a food allergy or physical contact with the allergen (soaps, perfumes, etc). Many times eczema and asthma are suffered together, but this is not always the case.
It is impossible to have an allergy free home, but you can cut down the amount to which your child is exposed. Try to start off small and work your way up. The idea is not to completely prevent contact with an allergen, but to reduce the overall exposure amount.
- Have everyone remove their shoes when they come indoors. This prevents pollen, dust, and allergens getting tracked through the house.
- Ensure children shower or bathe before bed, making sure to shampoo their hair, to prevent carrying pollen into their bed.
- If this doesn’t help, you may need to keep windows shut during spring and fall when pollen is the worst, and ensure good airflow in the house to prevent dust and mold. Improving air quality helps and can be achieved by installing filters in the air conditioning system or even purchasing a separate air purifier in severe cases. One study found that hay fever may be triggered by particular pollen or grass species. Once identified, they can be avoided altogether.
- Cover the crib or mattress with dust mite proof covers, wash bedding weekly in hot water, and remove mountains of stuffed animals. You may need to remove carpets and heavy drapes, vacuum with a HEPA filter, and clean with a wet rag or mop to remove allergens more effectively.
Keep an allergy diary
If your child regularly suffers allergy symptoms, it might be a good idea to keep a diary. Write down the symptom they are experiencing, the date, what foods they have eaten, or things that you have done out of the ordinary. If you changed laundry detergent, visited a new restaurant, or had a day out, write it down. This will be extremely helpful when visiting your pediatrician to identify allergies. When an allergy has been confirmed, make sure to inform your child’s school, nursery, or other child care providers.