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Pediatric Allergies

Advice From Your Allergist on Children's Allergies

An estimated 50 million Americans have some type of allergy. In most people, allergies first appear during infancy or childhood. Allergic disorders rank first among children’s chronic diseases.

Any child may become allergic, but children from families with a history of allergy are more likely to be allergic. Children may inherit the tendency to become allergic from their parents, but only some of them will develop active allergic disease. Allergies can show up in different ways in children including:

  • Skin rashes (atopic dermatitis or eczema)
  • Asthma
  • Allergic rhinitis (also known as “hay fever”)
  • Food allergies.

Allergic rhinitis is the most common of all allergy problems. It causes runny, itchy nose, sneezing, postnasal drip and nasal congestion (blockage). The child with allergies may also have itchy, watery and red eyes and chronic ear problems. Despite its common name, "hay fever" these allergy problems can occur at any time of the year -- seasonally or year-round, and do not cause fever.

The following are just a few points on potential problems for children with allergic rhinitis. Early identification of allergy problems in your child will improve their quality of life, decrease missed school days and keep you at work.

Nasal Congestion

Allergies are the most common cause of chronic nasal congestion in children. Sometimes a child's nose is congested (blocked) to the point that he or she breathes through the mouth, especially while sleeping. This may also cause the child to not get a restful night’s sleep and then be tired the next day. If the congestion and mouth breathing are left untreated, they can cause abnormal changes the way the teeth and the bones of the face grow. Early treatment of the allergies causing the nasal congestion may prevent these problems.

Allergy and ear infections

Allergies lead to inflammation in the ear and may cause fluid accumulation that can promote ear infections and decreased hearing. If this happens when the child is learning to talk, poor speech development may result. Allergies can cause earaches as well as ear itching, popping and fullness ("stopped up ears"). Anyone with these symptoms should be considered for testing and treatment.

Allergies at school

Fall means going back to school. For allergic children, that may mean absences due to problems related to allergic rhinitis. The following are suggestions for helping the allergic child and problems to look for so that allergy can be properly diagnosed and treated.

Allergy or Asthma Action Plan for Emergencies

If your child has asthma or severe allergy, provide your child's action plan to the school nurse or administrative office. Also discuss your child's access to medication in case of an emergency.

  • School pets: Furry animals in school may cause problems for allergic children. If your child has more problems while at school, it could be the class pet.
  • Asthma and physical education: Physical education and sports are a big part of the school day for many children. Having asthma does not mean eliminating these activities. Children with asthma and other allergic diseases should be able to participate in any sport the child chooses, provided the doctor's advice is followed. Asthma symptoms during exercise may indicate poorly control. Be sure that your child is taking controller asthma medications on a regular basis. Often medication administered by an inhaler is prescribed before exercise to control their symptoms.
  • Dust irritation: At school, children with allergic problems may need to sit away from the blackboards to avoid irritation from chalk dust.

Food allergic infants

The best food for a newborn is mother's milk. However, some especially sensitive babies can have allergic reactions to foods their mothers eat. Babies can be tested for allergies. Eliminating these foods from the mother's diet may provide relief for the child.

As infants grow, their nutritional needs continue to change and your physician will advise when it is time for solid foods.

Cow's milk can cause allergies in children, but it is a good source of protein and calcium. Milk should be eliminated from a child's diet only if you are sure the child is allergic to it. Parents may suspect allergy if the child exhibits hives after the ingestion of milk or other dairy products. If you suspect your child may be allergic to milk, consult your physician, who may conduct appropriate tests to verify the allergy and prescribe the proper course of treatment.

Just remember:

  • Allergies are common in children.
  • Many childhood problems are made worse by allergies.

Treatment of your child's allergies will make them happier and healthier.

Published 1997. Updated by October 2009.

Information provided by ACAAI (American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology)

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