Many things in our natural environment can cause allergic reactions. From peanuts to cat hair, allergens are a fact of life. But for many people, especially children, allergic reactions can make life uncomfortable, or even deadly.
As a parent, it’s important to know that whatever you may have an allergic reaction to, there’s a good chance your child will inherit the same condition. In fact, a family history of allergies is the single most important factor that predisposes someone to develop an allergic disease.
An allergen is any substance that can trigger an allergic response, which can range from itching to anaphylactic shock. Common environmental allergens are pollen, mold, and animal dander. If your child goes to daycare, keep in mind that allergens can be carried on other children’s clothing. Foods can also cause allergic reactions, with 90 percent of food allergies caused by wheat, eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, fish, or shellfish.
Reducing infant allergies
One way that parents can boost their child’s immune system starts from the moment they are born. “Breastfeeding has been shown to decrease the incidence of allergies in babies,” says Dr. Jamshed Kanga, chief of pediatric pulmonology at UK HealthCare’s Kentucky Children’s Hospital. However, mothers should be mindful of what they eat while they are breastfeeding, as it is transferred through breast milk to her child.
Kanga recommends avoiding eggs, fish, and nuts during an infant’s first year. “If you cannot breastfeed, only give your child regular or soy formula in the first year of life,” he says, because regular milk could cause intestinal blood loss and anemia if given before age 1.
Signs of an allergic reaction include eczema, hives, wheezing, sneezing, runny nose, and chest symptoms, such as difficulty breathing. These symptoms can occur as early as infancy, according to Dr. Beth Miller, chief of Allergy and Immunology at UK HealthCare’s Asthma, Allergy and Sinus Clinic. She explains that dark circles beneath the eyes, called “allergic shiners,” and the “allergic salute,” a crease on the nose due to rubbing, are other indications of allergies.
Miller says selective skin testing is reasonable for infants. “For the very young, we recommend testing for food and indoor allergens,” she says. “As they grow older we test for pollens and molds. Typically, we recommend testing for outdoor allergens at age 4 or 5 years.”
Children should avoid things that trigger their allergic reactions as much as possible, especially food. As children grow into adults, it is possible to outgrow some types of food allergies. However, very few people ever outgrow peanut, nut, fish, and shellfish allergies.
Nasal sprays and antihistamines are often recommended treatments, but should be given only after consulting with a health care provider. After age 4 or 5, a child could possibly have injections to keep allergies at bay.
For more information on the treatment of children’s allergies, call UK HealthCare at (859) 257-1000 or (800) 333-8874, or visit www.ukhealthcare.uky.edu and click on “Health Information.”
VISITING AN ALLERGIST
When you first visit an allergist, there are many questions both you and your doctor will want to ask each another about the suspected allergy and the reaction that prompted your visit. Try to remember or write down as many of the details as you can, including:
• How quickly did the reaction develop? Immediate or delayed?
• What symptoms occurred? Rash, chest symptoms, stomach symptoms, light-headedness, loss of consciousness?
• What other foods were eaten at the same time?
• What treatments or medications were used?
The key to excellent care of allergies is open communication among you, your allergist, and the allergist’s staff. Come to the appointment with questions written down so you don’t forget.