Allergies in children are a worry to many parents, including those who have children that have so far been free of them.
Here we’ll explain a little about allergies in children and what to look for.
What are allergies?
Strangely, allergies aren’t a ‘thing’ as such. They are just a word that relates to the symptoms of our body’s immune system reacting to something that it isn’t happy with.
Our bodies are doing that every single second of the day and we don’t notice. However, sometimes our bodies encounter something that triggers a particularly powerful over-reaction from the immune system and one that can be so strong that we feel it or see it.
In some cases, the reaction can be strong enough to make us ill and in some moderately unusual situations, that can even be life-threatening. Severe allergic reactions that can endanger life create a condition referred to as “anaphylaxis”.
Allergies are on the whole, more common in children than adults.
Why do allergies arise?
It is not entirely clear why some people have an allergy to something and others don’t.
There is evidence that this is at least in part genetic, as some allergies seem to run in families. There is also a long-established link between asthma and an increased vulnerability to other allergies.
In children, there is a suspicion that allergies are more commonplace, as their immune system is ‘learning’ about the world and settling down. That is tentatively supported by the fact that many childhood allergies disappear later in life or at least slip beneath the threshold of awareness.
There has also been much debate in recent decades about links between an increased frequency of allergies in children (and adults) and modern life, with its stresses and artificial materials, foodstuffs and pollutants etc.
However, while some links seem clear, the significance is disputed with some arguing that today we’re simply more likely to notice, question and then diagnose, allergies than in previous generations.
The things that cause our body to react can be many and varied. The generic term for such irritants is “allergens”.
Some children may be allergic to a single thing, such as strawberries though fine with other soft fruits. Others may be allergic to entire families of foodstuffs or products, such as acidic fruits.
Allergens can be ingested in foodstuffs, inhaled in the air (e.g., pollen), injected through insect bites and stings or simply by touch – as in some fabrics or things washed in certain types of detergent.
A list of all possible symptoms would be vast. Here are some of the commoner examples but the list is not exhaustive:
- skin irritation, blistering, welts (usually seen with contact allergens);
- wheezy breathing – difficulties in breathing in more severe cases;
- vomiting, cramps, dizziness, diarrhoea (more commonly seen in ingested or injected allergens);
- blistering around lips and mouth (usually with ingested allergens);
- constricted throat;
- watery and rim eyes, blocked noses, catarrh (often with inhaled allergens).
For children, various forms of antihistamine are very effective for mild to moderate cases.
In case of severe reactions and anaphylaxis, an EpiPen may be required to give a fast child-safe injected dose of adrenaline into a muscle.
Your doctor will advise depending upon your child’s sensitivity and possibly the outcome of some sensitivity testing. Do be prepared though for potentially inconclusive outcomes from some allergy testing and allergen diagnoses.
Avoidance – the natural world
There is no universally agreed guaranteed method of preventing your child from developing allergies.
Some experts advise ensuring as much contact with the natural world as is possible from the youngest ages to help train children’s immune systems. That includes things such as contact with pets and essentially, being free to get dirty.
It is also suggested that insulating children from the real world in sealed, temperature-regulated houses with sometimes filtered air is not a sound idea and a freeflow of fresh air and variable temperatures are essential.
It is also sometimes stated that children raised on freshly produced home foods are less likely to develop food allergies than those eating mass-produced foodstuffs.
There is some evidence for these things but it is not conclusive and the results are sometimes disputed.
Speak with your doctor
If you have reason to believe your child has an allergy, speak to your doctor for further advice. Make sure you’re also trained in emergency first age for children and that would include the use of EpiPens in an anaphylactic crisis, where contacting a doctor may not be feasible for speed reasons.