While a sniffle here or there may indicate a common cold or a seasonal allergy, many children experience much more severe symptoms that can indicate chronic allergies.
Know the Facts about Allergies
Common allergies often referred to as hay fever or allergic rhinitis affect millions of people in the United States annually. In 2010, 10 percent of U.S. children under the age of 17 suffered from allergic rhinitis in the previous year, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI). Allergic rhinitis can cause children to have watery eyes, nasal congestion, sneezing, sinus pressure and a runny nose, even during seasons when the common cold is not all that common.
Many children also have allergies to various foods, such as milk products, eggs, peanuts, soy, nuts, wheat and shellfish. According to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), more than 15 million Americans have food allergies, affecting 1 in every 13 children under the age of 18 in the United States.
According to Dr. Serena Anderson, family physician at Integris Family Care Memorial West in Oklahoma City, the severity of allergies varies from person to person. “The child can have blood tests performed to check for food and environmental triggers or you can have traditional allergy testing done by an allergy specialist,” she says.
Triggers to Know
Allergens are lurking everywhere. In fact, according to Anderson, the most common allergies that can cause hay fever symptoms include microscopic dust mites that live in furniture and fabrics and dander of household pets. Pests and insects, pollen, mold and fungi and foods can also host allergens that may cause a child to have a reaction.
A clean environment that is free from dust, mold and exposure to pollen can help a child cope better with the symptoms of allergic rhinitis. Washing bed sheets in hot water regularly, providing the child with a hypo-allergenic pillow and putting dust mite covers over mattresses also helps rid the home of these harmful triggers. Even though the fresh air may feel cool during spring and fall, opened windows can trigger environmental allergies and hay fever in children. Close the windows and keep the humidity in the house below 45 degrees so that the allergic child is more comfortable.
If coughing, watery eyes and sneezing continue, hay fever can also be treated with medications, such as Benadryl, suggests Anderson, but it is best to discuss treatment with the child’s health care provider.
The best way to treat food allergies and identify triggers is to observe the child’s reactions to milk products, eggs, peanuts, wheat and shellfish. If the child has a known food allergy or a reaction, avoid these foods altogether, says Anderson.
“Often, people don’t always realize the seriousness of food allergic reactions in children,” says Vandana Sheth, California-based registered dietitian. “Just trace amounts of a food allergen can cause a life-threatening reaction.”
Although it can be stressful when daily meals seem to revolve around a food allergy, it’s important for families to put things in perspective, says Sheth. “It certainly can take the joy out of celebrations when the focus is candy and allergen-filled sweets,” she says. “However, with education and awareness, a registered dietitian or pediatric allergist, the child can thrive and enjoy life.”
Be Aware of Reactions
The most severe type of allergic reaction is called anaphylaxis. According to Anderson, the mouth and airway swell when a child is having an allergic reaction, compromising the child’s ability to breathe normally. In addition, she may break out in hives or a rash and her blood pressure may drop. “If your child has a known trigger for anaphylaxis, she should have a prescription for an EpiPen and should carry it at all times,” says Anderson. “Epinephrine is injected through an auto-injector pen directly into the thigh muscle.”
In the case of a reaction, it’s crucial to call 911 immediately with concerns of anaphylaxis. Following up with a pediatrician and allergist will help you stay on top of the child’s needs as well. A log of reactions and symptoms may help physicians pinpoint the child’s specific allergies and help better prepare you to provide the best care for your sniffling and sneezing little ones.