No parent wants to see his or her child suffer. Unfortunately, a growing number of children in America are developing seasonal and environmental allergies that cause unpleasant symptoms like runny noses, itchy eyes, sneezing, and coughing.
Before parents can do anything to help their kids with these symptoms, they need to figure out the root causes of those symptoms.
Only a doctor can offer an official diagnosis, but concerned parents can read on to find out about the root causes of allergies in children to inform themselves before their children’s appointments.
The Role of the Immune System in Allergies
In healthy people, the immune system only responds to actual threats, such as viruses or bacteria. In allergy sufferers, the immune system may be triggered by seemingly harmless things like pollen, mold, and dust spores.
The body thinks these foreign objects, known as allergens, are harmful and begins to mount a response to them by producing antibodies.
Antibodies like immunoglobulin E (IgE) are attached to mast cells, which release chemicals, including histamine, when they come into contact with allergens, causing an allergic reaction.
The type of allergic reaction caused by exposure to an allergen will vary based on where the mast cells are releasing chemicals. If they’re in the nose, it can cause nasal allergy symptoms. If they’re in the lungs, children may experience asthma symptoms.
When mast cells produce chemical histamines throughout the entire body, they can cause a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction.
It’s never wise to ignore allergy symptoms in children. Parents can look for a Pediatrician near me who can evaluate the child for allergy and asthma symptoms and, if necessary, offer a referral to a specialist.
The Most Common Allergic Triggers in Children
People can be allergic to almost anything. Allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever or seasonal allergies, is by far the most common type of allergy across all age groups, including kids.
That said, there are also some other common triggers to look out for.
- Latex Mold
- Dust mites
- Pet dander
- Certain foods
- Certain medicines
- Bees or wasps
- Cockroaches and other pests
Some people experience more severe allergic reactions than others. People who are allergic to bee or wasp stings, for example, may go into anaphylactic shock when they are stung, while those with pet dander allergies may only develop a stuffy nose and itchy, watery eyes.
Don’t assume that just because the child’s reaction is not potentially fatal that it’s safe to ignore it.
Having allergies is very unpleasant and can even be debilitating, so parents should make a point of contacting their doctors after an allergic reaction, no matter how minor.
Symptoms of Allergies in Children
Allergic reactions can occur anywhere in a child’s body, from the skin, eyes, or sinuses to the lining of the stomach, throat, and lungs.
Basically, allergy symptoms occur anywhere that immune system cells may be fighting off germs, or, in this case, otherwise harmless allergens. Parents should look for symptoms of allergic reactions such as:
- Itchy eyes, ears, nose, or roof of the mouth
- Runny or stuffy noses
- Red, watery eyes
- Itchy, dry skin
- Hives or rashes
- Asthma symptoms like coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath
- Symptoms of anaphylaxis like vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure, trouble breathing, and fainting
If a parent believes his or her child is going into anaphylaxis, it’s important to call 911 immediately!
Anaphylaxis can lead to death. Otherwise, schedule an appointment with a qualified pediatrician. The child’s primary care physician may be able to determine the cause of the allergic reaction.
Otherwise, he or she will refer the patient to an allergist.
Who Is at Risk for Developing Allergies?
Anyone can develop allergies, but most people first start noticing symptoms during childhood.
Since kids can’t always tell their parents or their doctors what’s going on, parents need to stay vigilant, especially if there are other people in the family who struggle with specific allergies.
Doctors don’t know why allergy symptoms are more common when other family members also have them, but they have noticed a correlation.
Diagnosing Allergies in Children
The only people who can offer a definitive diagnosis of allergies in children and come up with treatment plans are licensed, pediatricians.
They perform physical exams, review the child’s health history, and may perform one or more of the following allergy tests.
Skin tests measure IgE antibody levels in response to exposure to specific allergens such as pollen, pet dander, or food. The doctor will place a small amount of the diluted allergen on the child’s skin, then prick it or scratch it.
If the child is allergic to the specific allergen applied, his or her skin will develop a small, raised bump. In some cases, intradermal testing may be required to clarify the results.
Most labs use what’s known as a radioallergosorbent test (RAST) to measure IgE antibodies in the blood. Blood tests are less common than skin tests. They’re usually reserved for people with skin conditions or very recent and severe allergic reactions.
The reason most doctors prefer skin testing is that the results of a RAST aren’t always definitive. Blood tests also take longer to provide results, and they’re often more costly than skin tests.
Challenge tests should only be performed under the supervision of a licensed allergist. During this type of test, the allergist will give the child a very small amount of his or her potential trigger by mouth to measure the severity of the reaction.
Challenge tests are usually a follow-up to skin or blood tests. Never attempt to perform them at home. They can provoke unexpected, severe reactions.
Allergies are unpleasant at any age, but they can be especially troubling during childhood since kids can’t always understand or explain what’s going on.
Parents can help by learning about allergies in children and keeping an eye out for common warning signs, then calling a pediatrician as soon as they notice something is amiss.