Allergies affect approximately 40% of children in America and allergic disorders rank #1 among children’s chronic diseases.
Allergies are disorders of the immune system. An allergic reaction is when a foreign substance, which is normally harmless in most children, causes an extreme reaction within the body. The substances that cause these adverse reactions are called allergens, and the person affected is said to be allergic to the substance. Common allergens may include:
• Animal dander and saliva
• Dust and dust mites
• Household chemicals
• Insect sting venom
Allergens can be ingested, inhaled, injected (from medicine or stings), or they can simply come in contact with the skin. Most allergies appear during childhood and can be either seasonal, year-around or both. Allergies also change as the child ages and their body changes. For instance, a child may have eczema as an infant, changing to hay fever later in childhood, then again to migraine attacks as a teenager, and eventually to arthritis in their elder years. This progression from one form of allergic disease to another is referred to as the ‘atopic march’ by physicians.
Statistics show that allergies among children are more common in boys than girls, with the percentage equaling out by adulthood. A child is also more likely to be affected if one or both parents have allergies.
Allergies come in many forms, with different triggers and symptoms. The most common allergies are atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, hay fever, asthma, food allergies, and hives.
Atopic dermatitis, or eczema, is typically the first allergic reaction, occurring in 20 percent of infants and young children. Atopic dermatitis begins with an itch, which when scratched creates a rash (eczema). Triggers for atopic dermatitis could include contact with allergens, irritants or sweating. The reaction is sometimes made worse by food allergies.
Contact dermatitis also involves red, dry, itchy patches. This rash occurs when there is contact with an allergen such as household cleaners or detergents, chemicals in perfume or cosmetics, or contact with a plant such as poison ivy or poison oak. The rash is usually confined to the area of direct contact.
Hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, is the most common of all allergy problems. Symptoms may include sneezing, nasal congestion, runny, itchy nose, postnasal drip, itchy and or watery eyes, redness and or swelling in and under the eyes, and chronic ear problems. Hay fever is caused by pollen from weeds, grasses or trees and can occur at any time of the year, either seasonally or year-around.
Asthma sufferers experience coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing, and chest tightness. A wide variety of things can trigger an asthma attack including pollen, dust, cold air or changing weather conditions, cigarette smoke, furry animals, viral infections, exercise or stress.
Hives are itchy skin patches resembling mosquito bites. They may be found on different parts of the body and do not stay in the same place for more than a few hours. The cause of hives is often unknown, but could be caused by food allergies, drugs, or viral infections.
Food Allergies can have very serious symptoms including eczema, hives, diarrhea, vomiting, difficulty breathing and even shock. Any food can cause a reaction but the most common culprits are eggs, peanuts, milk, fish, soy, wheat, peas, and shellfish. The number of children affected by peanut allergies has doubled in the past few years.
Eliminating or reducing exposure to allergens is the best treatment for allergic reactions. For many children who suffer from allergies, that means lifestyle and/or diet changes. For example, parents would need to eliminate the food from their children’s diets which caused them to have allergic reactions.
Parents can also take steps to limit their child’s exposure to pollen and mold spores.
• Check pollen counts daily to find out when they are high.
• Close windows on days when the pollen count is high, or when the lawn is being mowed.
• Keep car windows closed while driving.
• Use air-conditioning at home and in the car on high pollen count days.
• Dry your laundry in a dryer rather than hanging it outside.
• Change your child’s clothing after spending extended time outdoors.
• Have your child take a bath before bedtime to wash off pollen and mold spores that build up on their skin and hair.
Eliminating dust mites, which cause indoor allergies, can be done with minimal effort.
• Wash bedding frequently in hot water.
• Encase pillows and mattresses in allergen covers.
• Keep the carpet in the child’s bedroom cleaned and vacuumed or remove it altogether.
Mold or mildew is commonly seen in the bathroom or kitchen of the home. A diluted bleach solution can be used to clean the affected areas and kill the mold.
Families who have pets can take precautions against allergies by keeping the animal out of the child’s bedroom, and bathing the pet on a regular basis.
If the preventative measures fail, be sure to consult your child’s doctor who can assess your child’s allergies and form a treatment plan.