Written by Thery McKinney
Edited by A. Noelle
Three million children have food allergies. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, 44,000 people have asthma attacks every day. Nine of those people die. Despite these facts, allergies are often viewed as a trivial condition: merely sniffles, coughs and congestion. The Paediatric ‘Asthma in Canada’ Survey recently indicated that parents often are “lacking a sense of urgency and concern about the severity and management of their child’s disease.” Allergies and asthma are DISEASES.
A child’s allergy or asthma may be mild, but it still must be considered a serious condition. These diseases in infants, young children, and teens can be successfully managed by a team, consisting of the doctor, the parents, and the diagnosed child. But first there’s the need to understand the true nature of these diseases. Parents need to be aware; they must be able to recognize the symptoms and take appropriate action.
Do not panic! Not every cough or occasional breathing problem is an indication of these diseases. If you are in doubt, there are free online sources that help define symptoms and then advise when to seek a doctor’s care. Simple Q&A, tests and questionnaires are available. Many sources have referrals to local specialists and clinics. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America provides free resources, one being “Ask the Allergist” via e-mail. Plus, they offer a free Asthma PACT (Personalized Assessment and Control Tool) to analyze and show you how to improve asthma control. KeepKidsHealthy.com/asthma has an excellent questionnaire: “Does Your Child Have Asthma?”
Allergies are defined as diseases of the immune system that cause an overreaction to substances called “allergens.” These allergens are found indoors, outdoors, in food, in medicines, affecting the skin, eyes, and lungs.
Allergens called “triggers” cause the child’s body to have an allergic reaction whenever the child is exposed to them. Allergies, however, can flare up for no apparent reason. Some allergies are mild; for example, a child who is allergic to a particular food. The easiest solution is to avoid it – not to eat or drink it, smell or touch it! Consider it a simple lifestyle modification. But some allergies are severe. They are linked to the development of serious chronic respiratory illnesses, like asthma, that need daily monitoring and control; or worse, they produce a life-threatening occurrence of anaphylaxis (a-na-fi-LAX-is), an extremely severe and sudden allergic reaction. Food allergies are the most common cause of severe allergic reactions needing emergency room treatment. The U.S. Food Allergy Labeling Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) now requires food labels to clearly identify all allergen ingredients.
Dealing with allergies is an ongoing process and often a frustrating experience. Having patience is difficult when your child is suffering. It can take time to diagnose the allergy, find treatments appropriate for the child’s age, and then constantly adjust and adapt the allergy maintenance as the child grows. While most children are naturally predisposed to developing allergies and while no one can pinpoint the exact causes, there are many factors, such as genetics, that are influential. Children with one or both parents who have allergies are at more risk of developing them.
Asthma, also known as reactive airway disease, affects 25 million Americans; 7 million of these are children aged 17 years old and under, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The majority of children who develop asthma do so before the age of five. Diagnosis of asthma in children can be especially difficult because episodic wheezing and coughs are among the most common symptoms encountered in childhood illnesses in children under the age of three.
What exactly is asthma? It is a disease of the lungs in which the airways become blocked or narrowed, causing difficulty in breathing. Asthma doesn’t discriminate; individuals of any race, sex or age can develop asthma. There are two types: allergic (extrinsic) and non-allergic (intrinsic). Allergic asthma is the most common and is always associated with an allergy. Non-allergic asthma is caused by other “triggers,” such as anxiety, stress, exercise, cigarette smoke, strong fumes and irritants – even perfume can set off an attack. Studies show a strong link between secondhand smoke and asthma, especially in young people. Respiratory infections, meaning colds, flu, and sinus infections, are the number ONE asthma trigger in children.
Unfortunately there is no cure and no way to prevent allergies and asthma. But they can be managed.
Although it may be difficult to manage a child’s allergies or asthma, just think how hard it is for that child to try and deal with what are considered normal daily activities, not knowing why, or what, makes them different from other children. Imagine how terrifying it must be for them when they have an attack. How must they feel? Is it somehow their fault? Informative and interactive websites geared to pre-teens present games, puzzles, and videos at their levels of understanding. ItchyKidsClub.com has a humorous section labeled Food Allergies are Really Terrible (F.A.R.T.). NAA.org has Mr. Nose-It-All, a Q&A, and Dr. Al and the Sneeze ‘n Wheeze Busters, a wonderful coloring book. Older children have support groups for sharing their experiences. While each case of asthma is unique, it is reassuring to be able to talk with others of your own age.
As a parent, part of your responsibilities is to teach your child about their disease and make them aware of what is happening to their bodies and what they must do to feel better, physically and emotionally; EPA.gov has a downloadable brochure, “Help Your Child Gain Control over Asthma.” Many websites have suggestions for parent and child activities that offer strategies, such as keeping a symptom diary. How about explaining bronchial spasms to your young child by using simple comparisons between tube pasta and drinking straws?
Informed children can learn to control childhood allergy or asthma. In addition to information found at the local library, there are dozens of websites that offer assistance. Many websites offer 800 numbers and provide free links to advice, written material, and referrals to local allergists and immunologists, local clinics and support groups. Some organizations offer presentations to elementary, middle, and high schools in an effort to educate children, teachers, and parents.
Allergies and asthma occur throughout the world. They are yet another challenge in raising children, but resources are available. Research is continuing to ultimately find cures so that, hopefully, future generations will be able to breathe easy.
Websites to visit: