Children are fragile beings, and for the most part, your job as a parent is to keep them healthy and safe. However, there are constant and uprising threats that tend to make that job a bit more difficult. Allergies in children are a bit common and most of them can be managed until adulthood with the right measures.
If you are familiar with the way allergies affect children, you’ll understand the uncertainty that comes with diagnosing your child for a particular allergy. In this article, we’ll introduce you to common allergies in children and offer suggestions on what you can do to manage your children’s allergies.
What is an Allergy?
An allergy is how the body’s immune system responds to substances it perceives as harmful. This response causes a reaction known as an allergic reaction. The substances in question that cause this allergic reaction are known as allergens.
It’s important to note that allergens, especially with food allergies, are not necessarily bad for consumption; it just means that the child’s system (if having an allergic reaction), doesn’t accept that particular substance. For example, some children have allergic reactions to milk or peanuts, but that doesn’t make either milk or peanuts bad for consumption.
Allergies could be seasonal or life-long, and it’s often advised to avoid the allergens in order to prevent frequently recurring allergic reactions.
Symptoms of Allergies in Children
Allergens can get into the body through inhalation, ingestion or skin-absorption, and then trigger an allergic reaction. Asthma and allergic rhinitis are two common allergic reactions prevalent in Nigerian children, and they both have similar symptoms. Therefore, it is important to know the signs to watch out for.
Typically, a child who sneezes often, develops a rash, gets cramps or nausea after consuming certain food may have allergies. However, before we get into the common allergies in children beyond just food allergies, here are a few symptoms of allergies to watch out for:
- Itchy and runny nose
- Itchy and watery eyes
- Skin rashes or hives
- Stomach cramps
- Loss of breath
- Tongue swelling
- Wheezing (a whistling sound when breathing)
- Loss of consciousness
- Trouble swallowing
- Chest pain
- Drop in blood pressure (causes light-headedness)
When children experience these symptoms, you might notice that they would put their hands in their mouth, have slurred speech or exhibit panic. They may also use descriptive sentences like “My mouth feels funny,” “There’s something in my throat” or “This food is too spicy.”
Common Allergies in Children
A large percentage of allergies in children are triggered by food but that doesn’t discredit other allergies caused by pets, medication or insects.
- Food Allergies
Majority of food allergies are diagnosed in early childhood, and according to a publication by John Hopkins, nearly 5 percent of children under the age of five years have food allergies. Another publication also shows that food allergy affects an estimated 6 to 8 percent of children under age 3.
The most common causes of food allergies in children are milk, eggs and peanuts, with tree nuts, fish, peanuts and shellfish commonly causing the most severe reactions. In infants, soy allergy is more common than in older kids considering that soy proteins are often contained in prepared foods. Food allergies have symptoms similar to other medical conditions and problems, therefore it is important to consult your child’s doctor for a diagnosis.
- Insect Allergies
Insect allergies are allergic reactions to insect stings, bites or presence of bugs in the house. At least 90 – 100 deaths per year are as a result of insect stings anaphylaxis. Allergies to cockroaches and dust mites are probably the most common cause of insect allergies in children, although stings from honeybees, wasps and fire ants are also known to cause allergic reactions. Normally, reactions to insect stings will cause pain, redness or swelling and the severity will vary from child to child. An immediate solution to insect allergies can be to disinfect the area by washing with soap and water or applying ice to lessen the pain or swelling.
- Drug Allergies
If your child develops hives or experiences difficulty breathing after taking certain medications, it is likely that he or she has a drug allergy. The most common type of medicines that cause allergic reactions is antibiotics. Other common triggers include aspirin, ibuprofen and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
- Chemical Allergies
Chemical allergies occur as a result of exposure to certain chemicals that may be contained in detergents, dyes, skincare products or cosmetics. The two common forms of chemical allergy are skin sensitisation which results in allergic contact dermatitis and sensitisation of the respiratory tract which is associated with occupational rhinitis and asthma.
How to Help Children with Allergies
- Consult a paediatrician
In order to properly diagnose allergies, it is important to reach out to your child’s healthcare provider. Allergies are often diagnosed through a skin test, blood test or challenge test. One of the most effective ways that professionals deal with allergies is to prescribe an emergency kit containing epinephrine, allergy shots (immunotherapy) or medicine. To support the paediatrician’s efforts, you can take notes before and after your visits to keep tabs on prescriptions, instructions, follow-up appointments and questions.
- Avoid allergens
After speaking to a doctor and diagnosing the causes of your child’s allergies, it is important to avoid the foods or allergens that cause allergic reactions. For food allergies, avoid foods fried with the same oil as other foods that your child may be allergic to and if you plan to eat out, pay attention to the ingredients contained on the menu.
- Improve your child’s diet
Giving your child vitamins and minerals as supplements for the foods he or she can’t eat is a simple way to manage allergies in children. Remember to always consult your child’s doctor before you take any decision concerning your child’s health.
- Inform your child’s school about allergies
Informing relevant contacts at your child’s school is also an important step in managing allergies in children. When at school, children can unintentionally eat food they are allergic to or participate in physical activities (such as playing soccer on grass) that expose them to insect allergies. In a child-centred school, there will always be caretakers that you can speak to about your child’s allergies. That way, you’ll have extra helping hands as you deal with your child’s allergies.
Finally, you should know that your child is not alone in this. Allergies in children are common and although they can sometimes get in the way of your child’s regular functions, when identified early and managed properly, you can prevent your child from missing school or spending time in the clinic due to allergic reactions.