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Kids and Allergy Season

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Kids and Allergy Season

Allergies are an issue that millions of people across the country deal with every day, and are the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the United States, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

An allergy is when a person’s immune system reacts to things that are typically harmless to most people. It could be something you eat, inhale into your lungs, touch or inject into your body. Whatever the substance is and however you come into contact with it, your immune system mistakenly believes that it is harming you and reacts to fight it off. Allergic reactions can range from coughing, sneezing and itchiness to more severe symptoms such as rashes, hives, trouble breathing and even death.

Some allergies are seasonal and occur only at certain times of the year, while others happen any time someone comes into contact with an allergen (as with a food allergy) – and millions of children are among those whose lives are adversely affected by allergic reactions. In fact, allergies cause about 2 million missed school days each year.

Allergy Symptoms and Diagnosis

Some allergies are easy to identify, while others are less obvious because they are similar to other conditions. If your child has cold-like symptoms that last for longer than a week or two, and develop at the same time each year, it’s important to talk with your doctor about the possibility of an allergy.

To find the cause of an allergy a skin test is often used. A blood test may be performed if your child has a skin condition, is on certain medications, or is very sensitive to a particular allergen.

Allergic reactions can vary, however, some common symptoms include:

  • Sneezing
  • Itchy nose or throat
  • Coughing and/or a stuffy nose
  • Stomachache
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Itchy, watery or swollen eyes
  • Hives
  • Trouble breathing and/or throat tightness

Common Allergens

Allergies can be caused by a wide variety of substances. Many are airborne, while others are contained in food, medicine, cosmetics and household cleaners, or carried by animals, insects or plants we may come into contact with.

Airborne Allergens

  • Dust Mites are microscopic insects that feed on the millions of dead skin cells that fall off our bodies each day. They are the main allergen for those allergic to household dust, and live in bedding, upholstery and carpets.
  • Pollen is a major allergen and comes from trees, weeds and grasses, which release tiny particles into the air to fertilize other plants. Pollen allergies like hay fever are seasonal, and the type of pollen someone is allergic to determines when they experience symptoms.
  • Pet dander is tiny flakes of shed skin, and is the cause of many pet allergies. Pet urine can also cause allergic reactions when it gets on airborne fur or skin, or an inside accident is not cleaned up.
  • Molds live both indoors and outdoors in warm, moist environments (damp basements, compost piles, etc.). They are mostly seasonal, but some can grow year-round.

Food Allergens

  • Peanuts and tree nuts are on the rise as allergens for many people – including almonds, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts and cashews. People do not typically outgrow nut allergies.
  • Wheat proteins are found in many foods, and a wheat allergy is sometimes confused with celiac disease, which is a sensitivity to gluten. Wheat allergies can cause a life-threatening reaction, so it is important to pay close attention to symptoms and which foods contain wheat and are not suitable for you to eat.
  • Fish and shellfish allergies are common adult food allergies, and another type that people usually don’t outgrow. Having an allergy to one of these foods does not necessarily mean you will be allergic to the other.
  • Eggs are used in many foods, and are often a “hidden” ingredient – making this allergy a challenge to manage. Children with an egg allergy can outgrow it as they get older.
  • Milk allergies are often a reaction to cow’s milk protein, and affect between 2 and 3 percent of children younger than age three. Cow’s milk tends to be another “hidden” ingredient in many foods, and most infant formulas are also cow’s milk-based, so it is important to carefully review nutrition labels when managing this allergy.

Other Allergens

  • Insect allergies, particularly a reaction to being stung, can range from mild to life-threatening and occur in both children and adults.
  • Antibiotics, including over-the-counter medications, can cause allergic reactions in both children and adults.
  • Chemicals contained in household cleaners, laundry detergents and cosmetics can cause allergic reactions such as hives. Other items such as dyes and pesticides used on lawns or plants can also cause allergic reactions in some people.

Allergy Treatments

Unfortunately, there is no cure for an allergy. However, the symptoms can be managed. The best course of action is to avoid the allergen that is causing your reaction. That means parents should educate kids early and often about both their allergies and the reactions they may have if they come into contact with an allergen.

It's also important to inform caregivers, teachers, family members, and the parents of your child’s friends about their allergy.

Avoiding an allergen can be more difficult than you might expect – especially if that allergen is a family pet, a favorite food, or a “hidden” ingredient that is present in many foods. Reading labels, preventing cross-contamination when you are preparing food, and informing wait staff at restaurants of allergies is an important part of managing allergic reactions to food.

For children with airborne allergies, taking steps like keeping pets out of their room, removing carpets or rugs, avoiding heavy drapes, cleaning when they are away, and using special covers to seal pillows and mattresses can help mitigate allergic reactions in the home.

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