An allergy is an immune reaction to a substance in the environment called an allergen.
When a child with allergies comes into contact with an allergen – either by touching it, breathing it, eating it, or having it injected – her body mistakenly views it as a dangerous invader and releases histamines and other chemicals to fight it off. These chemicals irritate the body and cause symptoms such as a runny nose, sneezing, itching, and coughing. Symptoms can be mild or more severe, intermittent (seasonal, for example), or ongoing because of constant exposure to the allergen.
In some cases, an allergen can cause a severe reaction, called anaphylactic shock. This is a medical emergency, as the symptoms – including difficulty breathing and swelling – can be life threatening.
Possible allergens include food, drugs, insects, animal dander, dust mites, mold, and pollen. Allergens can cause respiratory symptoms, as in nasal allergies or allergic rhinitis, skin symptoms like eczema, or intestinal problems – from food allergies, for example.
Babies and toddlers are unlikely to have hay fever. Seasonal allergies to things such as pollen and grass usually don't rear their ugly (and stuffy) head until a child is about 3 to 4 years old. That's because the exposure to each type of pollen is for only a few weeks each year.
According to figures released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2011, based on the agency's National Health Interview Survey, 4.5 percent of children under 18 have a food allergy (up from 3.5 percent in 2000), 10.7 percent have a skin allergy (up from 7.3 percent in 2000), and 16.6 percent have hay fever or a respiratory allergy.
Dust mites Dust mites live in fabrics and carpets and are common in every room of the house. But children are usually exposed to the most dust mites in the bedroom, where mattresses and pillows are veritable dust-mite condominiums.
- Parents who take these steps might expect a 60 to 70 percent rate of improvement in their child's allergies," says Virant, "and this should markedly cut down the level of medication needed for the problem."
-Encase your child's mattress in an impenetrable cover made of very tightly woven fabric, found at allergy supply stores. Unlike vinyl covers, these provide a barrier that's breathable and not crinkly. Avoid big, fluffy comforters and use blankets instead.
-Wash bedding once a week in hot water to kill dust mites. Set your water heater to about 130 degrees Fahrenheit before laundering bedding, and warn family members that the water will be hotter than usual. Be sure to turn the water heater back down (to about 120 to 125 degrees) afterward so family members won't scald themselves when they wash their hands or shower.
-Avoid piling up stuffed animals in your child's room – they're dust-mite magnets. Wash the few favorites your child can't live without in hot water weekly or stick them in the freezer for an overnight killing frost.
-Dust and vacuum weekly or every other week, but make sure your child isn't in the room when you do it. Dusting and vacuuming stir up residual dust-mite particles in the room. Wet mopping can help prevent this.
-If your child has a severe dust mite allergy, consider replacing carpeting with a smooth floor like hardwood or vinyl.
-Clean or replace filters on your furnace and air conditioners monthly during seasons they're in use. Have heating ducts cleaned each fall.
Pet dander, your child is allergic to a pet, the only foolproof solution is to give the animal away. That's not an easy decision to make, of course, and, understandably, you'll want to consider it only as a last resort.
To keep the dander down, wash your pet frequently. You can find shampoos that reduce dander in the pet store. Also keep your pet off the furniture and out of your child's room.
Pollen, during allergy season it can be close to impossible to avoid airborne pollens. You can try to keep your child indoors with the windows closed during the height of pollen season, particularly on windy days, but this may be unrealistic.
your child does go outdoors, make sure you bathe her and wash her hair each night to remove any airborne allergens. Dry her clothes in the dryer rather than on the clothesline, and close the air ducts to her bedroom.
Keep tabs on the pollen counts in your area so you know which days to be particularly mindful of your child's exposure.
Mold, a dehumidifier and air conditioner when the weather is warm and moist, especially in a wet basement or other areas of your home where mold growth is a problem.
your bathroom is a mold factory, clean it regularly with mold-inhibiting disinfectants, such as a little bleach and water or a natural solution like tea tree oil and water. And consider investing in a better ventilation system.
Mold can often be found growing in closets, attics, cellars, planters, refrigerators, shower stalls, and garbage cans and under carpets. Even a fake Christmas tree can harbor mold.
These are the most likely culprits:
Some children are allergic to down and feather pillows or wool blankets. And while most experts don't think children can be allergic to tobacco smoke, it can certainly make their allergic symptoms worse.