This information is about childhood allergies. It covers what they are, what forms they take, what causes them, and how to deal with them.
An allergy is the body’s reaction to a foreign substance. The reaction may involve the eyes, nose, lungs, the skin, the stomach and the intestines. The allergic reaction may be red, watery, itchy eyes and a runny nose; sneezing or coughing, wheezing; rash, dry skin, or hives — or internal upset after eating certain foods.
The tendency to allergies is inherited but specific allergies are not. So if you are allergic to feathers, don’t automatically assume that your child’s allergic reaction is also to feathers.
A tendency to allergies continues throughout life, but your child’s sensitivities and reactions may well change.
During a child’s first eighteen months, food allergies are most common. Most allergists feel that breastfeeding may be best for babies born into families with a history of allergies. Introduce other foods after six months of age, one-at-a-time, and feed each new food for at least four days before adding another. Some allergists recommend up to two weeks between each new food.
If your baby has a reaction, omit the new food for two weeks to see if the symptoms improve or disappear. If they do, double check by starting the suspect food again. If the reaction reappears, eliminate the food and see if the symptoms improve. Be patient, because the improvement may take several days to appear.
Foods that can cause problems for sensitive children include cow’s milk, wheat, corn, tomatoes, soy, peanut butter, strawberries, and eggs. Allergic reactions to foods usually include skin rashes, nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea.
Reactions to medications can be very similar to food reactions, and they can happen even if your child was given the medicine previously without any reaction. If your child develops a reaction to a medication, call your health care provider. Let him or her decide whether the reaction is allergic or not. Children who have very severe reactions to drugs should wear special bracelets or necklaces identifying the drug allergy.
When children begin to crawl and walk, they come into contact with other things that can produce allergy Soaps, powders and bubble bath; natural clothing fibers such as wool and silk; even some metals can produce skin reactions. Pollen, dust, feathers, pet dander, and molds may cause nasal allergy or asthma. Children who seem to have a constant cold, but without any fever, may be allergic to airborne substances.
If your child has an allergy, the best way to treat it is by avoiding the substance that causes it. If that’s impossible (as in the case of pollen) the symptoms can be treated with medications. In more severe cases, allergy shots may be needed. These are prepared by an allergy specialist to fit your child’s particular needs, as determined by allergy skin tests. (However, skin tests are often negative in children under five.)
Allergy shots can be effective for hay fever and asthma. They reduce but do not eliminate allergic sensitivity. There is no cure for allergies, but some children improve naturally during their teenage years. Meanwhile, the purpose of allergy treatment is to minimize symptoms and help your child live a normal, comfortable life.
If you suspect that your child has an allergy, discuss it with the child’s health care provider. And if your child is no longer responding to the usual treatment for an existing allergy problem, you should discuss this too.
Remember these key points:
- Allergic reactions show up in the respiratory, skin, and digestive systems. In children under 8 months, the most common allergy is food allergy. Introduce new foods one-at-a time and determine whether or not they cause reactions.
- For older children, medications can control the symptoms of milder allergies, and allergy shots may help in some of the more severe cases. But the best treatment for allergies is to avoid the substances that cause them — whenever that’s practical.
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