Pediatric Congenital Conditions Allergies

Allergies are the third leading cause of chronic health problems in children under 18 and are the fifth leading cause of chronic disease among adults. In fact, allergies are so prevalent that, on any random day, roughly 10,000 kids in the United States are absent from school due to allergy complications. Similarly, allergies and allergy relief medication can cause drowsiness, interfering with a child’s ability to concentrate on and remember information.

Like many conditions, allergies can range from being mild to severe. Understanding the type and intensity of your child’s allergies is key to preventing more serious complications, such as asthma.

Causes of Childhood Allergies

Kids with allergies have immune systems that mistake harmless substances for physiological threats. In response to the perceived threat, the body produces histamines, chemicals the body’s white blood cells release that cause the swelling and itchiness associated with allergy symptoms.

While researchers are still investigating the exact causes of allergies, doctors do know that genetics and family history of allergies makes children more likely to develop allergies. In fact, if one parent has allergies, children have a 30 percent to 50 percent chance of also having allergies. If both parents have allergies, the risk of childhood allergies rises to anywhere between 60 percent to 80 percent.

While allergies are inherited to some degree, the specific type of allergy a child contracts is not. For instance, a parent may suffer from dust allergies, but the child can develop food allergies.

While most kids with allergies inherit the condition, allergy symptoms can develop regardless of the family history. In such cases, environmental factors are thought to be the cause.

Types of Childhood Allergies

Foreign substances outside the body that trigger an allergic response are called allergens. As many allergy sufferers know, almost any substance can be an allergen. Here is a basic outline of some of the most common types of childhood allergies:

  • Drugs: Many children suffer from drug allergies, preventing them from taking certain prescription medication. When a child with a drug allergy ingests this allergen, he can suffer from a range of symptoms, depending on the severity of his allergy.For example, while a mild drug allergy can result in a skin rash, serious allergies to drugs can cause a child to go into potentially fatal anaphylactic shock (characterized by a sudden drop in blood pressure and intense difficulty in breathing). Penicillin and sulfa drugs are among the more common drug allergies.
  • Food Allergies: About 2 million American kids have some type of food allergy. Although children can be allergic to nearly any type of food, the most common childhood food allergy is to a protein found in cow milk, a common ingredient in many infant formula products. Kids with allergies to cow’s milk usually develop the allergy in the first year of life. Other common food allergies include allergies to eggs, fish, shellfish, nuts, peanuts, wheat and soy.
  • Insect Bites: In the broad scheme of possible allergens, insect bites represent only a small percentage of childhood allergies. However, when someone does have an allergy to insect bites, it tends to be severe. Bees, wasps, mosquitoes and fire ants are the most common sources of insect bite allergies.
  • Pollens: Pollens, pet dander and dust mites can all cause allergic rhinitis, a set of respiratory allergy symptoms that include sneezing, coughing, sore throats and runny noses. Unlike other types of allergies, allergy symptoms caused by pollens and molds are often seasonal, affecting the child at the same time every year. As a result, parents and children can predict and prepare for the onslaught of problematic symptoms.
  • Skin Allergies: Occasionally, kids can develop allergic reactions just from touching an allergen, rather than by ingesting, inhaling or being injected with it. Known as contact allergies, these types of allergies cause skin reactions ranging from mild red rashes to chronic eczema. Skin allergy symptoms can arise from contact with plants, pets, latex, soaps, perfumes and cleaning products. Latex is a synthetic substance commonly used to make medical products, such as gloves. Latex allergies symptoms can be severe.

Allergy Symptoms

Allergies can cause a wide range of symptoms, depending on the cause and intensity of the childhood allergy. Possible allergy symptoms include:

  • allergic shiners (blue-brown discoloration around the eye)
  • breathing solely through the mouth (rather than through the nose)
  • chronic ear infections
  • congestion
  • flushed cheeks
  • flushed ears
  • itching and tingling sensations in the mouth, nose or throat
  • puffy bags under eyes
  • red, itchy skin rashes
  • seasonal colds
  • sniffling and sneezing
  • sore throat.

Anaphylactic Shock

Anaphylactic shock, or anaphylaxis, is a life-threatening allergic reaction that affects approximately 30 out of every 100,000 people. Children with asthma, hay fever and eczema have a higher risk of experiencing anaphylaxis than other kids with allergies.

Symptoms include:

  • abdominal pain
  • difficulty breathing
  • dizziness
  • hives
  • loss of consciousness
  • nausea and vomiting
  • sudden drop in blood pressure
  • swelling.

Allergy Relief and Treatments

While avoiding exposure to allergy triggers is the ideal allergy treatment, it isn’t always possible to avoid allergens, especially those that are too small to see. If needed, both over-the-counter and prescription allergy relief medication can be used to treat kids with allergies. Medications for allergy relief include:

  • antihistamines, medications that treat itchy eyes, nasal discharge, watery eyes, hives and itchy skin
  • decongestants, medications that treat runny noses
  • immunotherapy shots, a series of injections that reduces sensitivity to allergens (Dust allergies, pollen, molds and pet allergies can all benefit from immunotherapy shots.)
  • nasal steroid sprays, medications that are effective and safe allergy for a range of allergy symptoms.

Day-to-day allergy treatment focuses on minimizing allergen exposure. Food allergies are best treated by avoiding all foods containing the allergen (although determining if pre-packaged foods contain allergens can be a challenging task).

FDA Allergy Food Label

On Jan. 1, 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration mandated that food manufacturers clearly list any of the eight major food allergens their products contain. This recent requirement helps prevent those with food allergies from accidentally consuming foods that contain their allergen. The label includes warning that any of the following are in that product:

  • eggs
  • fish (i.e., cod, flounder, etc.)
  • milk
  • peanuts
  • shellfish (i.e., shrimp, crab, etc.)
  • soy
  • tree nuts (i.e., walnuts, cashews, etc.)
  • wheat.

Preventing Allergies

Here are some strategies for preventing allergies:

  • avoiding damp areas
  • avoiding dust traps (such as heavy curtains)
  • changing clothes after outdoor activities
  • cleaning the house often
  • closing windows during peak pollen season
  • keeping bathrooms free of mold
  • keeping pets out of the bedroom
  • replacing carpet will hard flooring
  • sealing pillows and mattresses in special covers
  • using air conditioners to reduce pollen.

The risk of food allergies can be reduced by slowly introducing infants to new foods. Here are some tips for helping to prevent your infant from developing food allergies:

  • Add new foods one at a time when introducing the child to solid food.
  • Avoid soymilk or milk-based formula if at all possible.
  • Introduce milk, wheat, soy, corn and citrus after the first year of life.
  • Wait until a child is two before introducing him to eggs. Start feeding children peanuts and fish at three years of age.

Contact allergy relief may require non-steroid anti-inflammatory cream for skin rashes. Steroid-based creams also provide allergy relief but must be used sparingly to avoid side effects.

Avoiding perfumed soaps, deodorants and fabric softeners can prevent contact allergies from arising. Stick to non-perfumed laundry detergent instead. Also, any new clothes or bed sheets should be washed before use.

Resources

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (updated 2003). Tips to remember: Prevention of asthma and allergies in children. Retrieved June 5, 2005 from the AAAAI Web site: www.aaaai.org/patients/publicedmat/tips/preventioninchildren.stm.

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. (nd). Allergy facts and figures. Retrieved June 5, 2005 from the AAFA Web site: www.aafa.org/display.cfm?id=9