Common Allergies in Children
An allergy is a reaction of the immune system towards a substance that is typically harmless to most people. In a child with an allergy, the body treats the substance, called an allergen, as an invader.
At the first exposure to an allergen, the immune system produces an antibody. With each exposure, more antibodies are created. When the antibodies are activated to defend against the allergen or ‘invader’, it causes allergic reactions such as coughing, sneezing, runny nose and watery eyes or congestion.
Some of the most common allergies include airborne allergens such as pollen and dust mites, animal dander and foods. Allergies can be seasonal, like pollen, or year-round, like dust mites.
Children inherit allergies from their parents. If one parent has allergies, there is one in four chance that the child will also have allergies. The risk increases if both parents have allergies. However, the child only inherits the likelihood of having allergies and not a particular allergy.
Allergies also tend to occur in clusters. If a child is allergic to one substance, it is likely that he will be allergic to others as well. The type and severity of allergy symptoms vary from allergy to allergy and child to child. Some children may experience a combination of symptoms.
Dust mites are one of the most common causes of allergies and are present year-round. Dust comprises many particles and can contain things such as fabric fibres and bacteria, as well as microscopic dust mites. The dust mite is the main allergic component of house dust. Dust mites live in bedding, upholstery and carpets. Cockroach body parts and waste products are also a major household allergen, especially in urban areas.Pollen is another important cause of allergies. Trees, weeds and grasses release these tiny particles into the air to fertilise other plants. Most people know pollen allergy as hay fever.
Household pet can cause allergic reactions, usually due to a protein in their saliva, dander and urine. When the animal licks itself, the saliva gets on the fur. As the saliva dries, protein particles become airborne and work their way into fabrics in the home. Cats are the ‘worst offenders’ because their salivary protein is extremely tiny and they tend to lick themselves more than other animals. Some of the common allergies in children and their symptoms are as follows:
Allergic rhinitis is the most common of the allergic diseases and refers to seasonal nasal symptoms that are due to pollens. Year-round or perennial allergic rhinitis is usually due to indoor allergens such as dust mites or molds. Symptoms result from the inflammation of the tissues that line the inside if the nose (mucus lining or membranes) after allergens are inhaled. Adjacent areas such as the ears, sinuses and throat can also be involved. The most common symptoms include runny nose, stuffy nose, sneezing, nasal itching, itchy ears and throat, and post nasal drip.
Asthma is a breathing problem that results from the inflammation ans spasm of the lung’s air passages (bronchial tubes). The inflammation causes a narrowing of the air passage, which limits the flow of air into and out of the lungs. Asthma is most often, but not always, related to allergies. Common symptoms include shortness of breath, wheexing, coughing and chest tightness.
Allergic eyes, also known as allergic conjunctivitis,is the inflammation of the tissue layers (membranes) that cover the surface of the eyeball and the under surface of the eyelid. The inflammation occurs as a result of an allergic reaction and may produce the following symptoms – redness under the lids and of the eye overall, watery and itchy eyes, and swelling of the membranes.
Allergic eczema or atopic dermatitis is an allergic rash that is usually not caused by skin contact with an allergen. The condition is commonly associated with allergic rhinitis or asthma and features the following symptoms – itching, redness and dryness of the skin, rash on the face, rash around the eyes, in the elbow creases, and behind the knees.
Hives or urticaria are skin reactions that appear as itchy swellings and can occur on any part of the body. Hives can be caused by an allergic reaction, such as to a food or medication, but they may also occur in non-allergic people. Typical hive symptoms are raised red welts and intense itching.
If the sensitivity to an allergen is extreme, a child may develop a life-threatening condition called anaphylactic shock. Severe symptoms or reactions to any allergen require immediate medical attention. There is no cure for allergies, but symptomatic relief is possible. One of the important means is by reducing or eliminating exposure to allergens or ‘triggers’. If reducing exposure is inadequate, medication may be prescribed. In some cases, a referral to an allergy specialist may be necessary to help desensitize the child.