It seems lately every child has some sort of allergy – nasal allergies, atopic dermatitis, food allergies, allergies to bee stings, antibiotics and other chemicals, which cause hives and anaphylaxis. Why do allergies occur?
Allergies are a reaction to something from outside your body that your immune system doesn’t like. That something is called an antigen and it can be floating in the air, like pollens and dust mites, contained in food or shampoos, skin creams, cosmetics, or a medication. B cell lymphocytes, a variety of white blood cells, come into contact with the antigen and respond by producing antibodies, called immunoglobulins.
Once the specific immunoglobulin is produced, it clings onto the outside of other specialized white blood cells. The next time those antibodies meet that antigen, they start a chain reaction, starting with the destruction of those specialized white cells, which contain histamine and other allergy inducing proteins. The histamine is dumped into the blood stream and tissues and the reaction starts.
Most allergies are not severe, although peanuts, shellfish, and some antibiotics can all produce a life-threatening reaction. But allergies, like hay fever, are more than just annoying. The constant head congestion and runny nose can make you feel miserable. When your child has allergies, you want to help make them feel better.
How do you tell if your child has allergies?
- Seasonal rhinitis – The same symptoms of runny nose, watery, itchy eyes, head congestion, and sneezing show up every year at about the same time and last for several weeks.
- Food allergy – After eating a particular food your child develops the same symptoms each time. Symptoms can include nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, cough, choking, hives, or swelling of the face, ears, hands, and feet. This also can include difficulty breathing.
- Eczema – A red, itchy, scaly rash develops on the insides of the elbows, behind the knees, on the neck, or buttocks.
- Exercise-induced hives – Hives occur with itching, but there may also be reddening of the skin, swelling of the face and hands, and difficulty breathing.
- Asthma – The child develops a cough with wheezing. There may be a complaint that the chest feels tight. Symptoms tend to be worse at night, with exposure to cold, and with exercise.
What are the most common causes for allergies?
- Dust mites – a tiny member of the spider family that’s so small it can’t be seen without a microscope. It inhabits beds, furniture, and rugs.
- Molds – common in many homes
- Pets – usually those with fur or feathers
- Plants – usually the pollen from trees, shrubs, and weeds
- Foods – such as milk, peanuts, soy, fish, shellfish, eggs, and wheat. Certain foods, especially milk, cannot be digested well by some people. Lactose intolerance is not an allergy.
What are the treatments for allergies?
- Rhinitis – The usual treatments is a nasal spray containing corticosteroids to decrease inflammation in the mucous membranes. Antihistamines are used as needed.
- Eczema – Using skin moisturizers helps, especially after baths, along with avoiding soaps that contain perfumes. Stay away from fabric softeners. Moisturizers are the best therapy, especially after a bath. Steroids creams can be used if moisturizers are not enough. Some cases of eczema are associated with food allergies. Identifying and eliminating the food altogether may help.
- Food allergies – The only way to avoid reactions is to avoid the food that causes it. Read labels on prepared products to prevent exposing your child to an allergen. Keeping an epinephrine injection pen with you and in the house can be life saving.
- Hives with exercise – If symptoms occur during exercise, stop the exercise, and wait. If the symptoms do not resolve, the child may need to go to the doctor or emergency room, depending on the severity of the attack. Taking antihistamines before exercise can sometimes ward off development of symptoms.
- Asthma – Inhaled branchial dilators that relax the airway to stop wheezing are the treatments, which is the treatment of choice. In addition, steroids may be prescribed depending on your child’s symptoms. Avoiding the irritants that can bring on an attack is essential. Keep the house free of dust mites and molds. If you are going to have pets, make sure you are not allergic to them. Certain dog and cat breeds are known not to be more suitable for homes with allergy and asthma problems. Protect your children from tobacco smoke and secondhand smoke. No smoking in the house and encourage any smokers who live in your home to quit.
Allergies, no matter the type, are complicated and often not easy to treat. If you suspect your child has any type of allergy, please set up an appointment with Dr. Fakih for evaluation. She can help you identify the cause and develop a treatment plan that will protect your child. We are here to help.
Dearborn Pediatric & Adolescent Medical Center
2547 Monroe St
Dearborn, MI 48124
P: (313) 791-8300
F: (313) 791-8302
Monday - Friday 9:00AM - 4:00PM
By Appointment Only