Certain foods, pets, or things in the air that are usually harmless to most people can sometimes cause a reaction in others, known as an allergy. Allergic reactions occur when the body releases chemicals because it does not like something the person eats, drinks, touches, or breathes. One of the most common chronic diseases in children and adults is an allergy. Allergies usually appear when children are young. They are often passed on from parents to children, so if you know you have an allergy, you should get your child tested. While allergies do not usually go away, they are very manageable.
Managing your child's allergies
The ABC's of allergies. The most common allergies in children are either food allergies (including milk, eggs, shellfish, nuts, soy, and wheat) or airborne allergies (including dust, pollen, mold, and pets). Children can be allergic to more than one thing. Allergic reactions range from mild reactions like a stuffy nose or sneezing (mostly from airborne allergies) to rashes (from food or pet allergies) to more severe reactions like vomiting, diarrhea, or difficulty breathing (from food or airborne allergies).
Allergies start early. Allergies can start early. Feeding your baby only breastmilk for at least the first three months is the best way to protect her from developing milk and possibly other allergies. In fact, pediatricians recommend avoiding giving your child cow’s milk until she is 12 months, eggs until she is 18 months, and nuts until she is three years old. However, traces of milk and other foods that children can be allergic to, such as peanuts or eggs, can be passed in small traces through breastmilk. It is also recommended that you introduce new, solid foods to your baby one at a time and in small quantities for a few days. If your infant has any type of abnormal reaction, such as vomiting, diarrhea, or a rash, you should contact her pediatrician.
Diagnosing and testing. In addition to the more visible reactions described above, there are other signs that might indicate that your child has an allergy, most likely an environmental one. These include ongoing nasal congestion, frequent ear infections, or frequent colds that seem to last a long time. You should bring these to the pediatrician’s attention, because if your child continuously breathes through her mouth in the first few years, this can change the way the soft bones of her face grow and the way her teeth come in, causing dental and other problems in the future. Doctors can test children for allergies. Although they can be done in infants, these tests are most reliable in children over two years old. The test for environmental and food allergies is a skin test that is not too painful and will not harm your child.
Preventing an allergic reaction. The best way to manage your child’s allergies is to do your best to make sure he does not come into contact with the things he is allergic to. If your child has food allergies, make sure you read the ingredients of the foods your child eats because there may be traces of the things he is allergic to. Teach your child to remember to tell others at school, at childcare, or at a friend or family member’s house that he is allergic to a certain food. Also communicate this information yourself to your child’s school because many schools will make accommodations if your child has a severe allergic reaction to something like nuts by making the classroom ‘nut-free’ and asking that no one bring anything containing nuts. If your child has airborne allergies that are triggered by things in the air, the most important thing you can do is to keep your house clean and dry. Keep pets out of your child’s room, and keep windows closed as much as possible and use air conditioning. If you do have air conditioners, you should change their filters at least once a year. You can also get an air purifier for your home. Avoid having real plants in your home, including Christmas trees. You can also get special pillow and mattress covers if your child is allergic to dust. Avoid bedding made with down. Change your child’s clothes after he has been outside. If your child has an environmental allergy, sometimes allergy shots can be given to minimize the symptoms and keep the allergy under control.
Treating allergies. While there is no cure for allergies, they are treatable when a flare-up occurs. For food and insect allergies, reactions might be treatable with an injectable dose of epinephrine (also known as an epi-pen because it looks like a pen), a drug that makes an allergic reaction go away. You can carry this around with you, and if your child is old enough, she can even give it to herself. Make sure your child’s teacher and/or school nurse know about this and are able to access it if necessary. If your child has environmental allergies, the most common reaction is difficulty breathing. Her doctor might prescribe an inhaler that she can use if she feels this or if you or others sense that she is having trouble. With any kind of allergic reaction, even if you can treat it with an epi-pen or inhaler, you should still take your child to her doctor as soon as possible to make sure she is ok. You, your child, your child’s school, childcare, and any other activity or place she visits should know what she is allergic to, what signs indicate she is having an allergic reaction, and how to respond.