Allergies in children have become a very common thing nowadays. Allergies are caused when the immune system reacts abnormally to allergens, which are usually harmless to most people. This immune response causes a wide range of irritating to sometimes life-threatening symptoms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is estimated that over 50 million Americans alone have some form of allergy.(1) In some cases, these allergies tend to show up during childhood or infancy itself.
Allergies in children can get in the way of their play, functioning in school, and their ability to sleep properly at night. Here are some common early childhood allergies, what to look out for, and how to take care of your child.
What is the Prevalence of Childhood Allergies?
All forms of allergies have been growing rapidly in recent years. The CDC estimates that between 1997 and 2011, the prevalence of food and skin allergies in children in the US has jumped substantially.(2) Other research estimates that food allergies affect nearly three to six percent of children in the developed world. Another study done in the United Kingdom reported a prevalence of food allergy in 7.1 percent of breast-fed infants, with 1 infant out of 40 having peanut allergy and 1 in 20 infants having egg allergy.(3, 4, 5)
The rate of respiratory allergies, though, which is the most common type of allergies found in children, remained stable during the period of 1997 and 2011. The data from CDC showed a varying prevalence of allergies in children by age, and it was found that younger children were more likely to develop skin allergies. In contrast, older ones were more susceptible to developing respiratory allergies. You are more likely to see skin allergy symptoms in your little kids, while older children are more likely to hack and wheeze.
But what exactly happens in an allergic reaction in children? When your child has an allergic reaction, the immune system becomes activated in order to defend against the foreign invader, which might be considered to be just an ordinary substance for others, but not for your body. The allergen can be in the form of pollen from trees or grasses, food, or pet dander. It can cause a wide variety of reactions or symptoms in your child since their immune system reacts in the same manner as it would had it been fighting off a virus or bacterial invasion.(6, 7, 8)
Common Symptoms of Childhood Allergies
There can be many common symptoms your child experiences if they have any form of allergies, including itchy, runny, swollen, or red eyes that tend to go on for over a week or two. This also includes a runny nose. But are these symptoms chronic? Or does your child scratch their ears or say that their throat or mouth is itching or feels tingly? According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, these may also be symptoms of a possible allergy, most likely of allergic rhinitis or hay fever, which are the most commonly occurring types of allergies in children. It is, therefore, important to note whether these symptoms occur at the same time of the year, every year.(9, 10)
You will also find symptoms of an allergy on your child’s skin. The skin, which is the largest organ in the body and a major part of the immune system, tends to react against an allergen. You should check your child’s skin for signs of eczema, which presents in the form of dry and red scaly patches that may be itchy. Also, check for hives, which is a major symptom of an allergy. Hives are red welts that come up on the skin and can differ in size. They can even be as large as a dinner plate or as small as the tip of an earbud.(11)
Respiratory symptoms are also a common sign of allergy in a child. Hay fever or other types of allergies can have an effect on your child’s breathing. So if you hear a noisy wheeze every time your child breathes or if you find them feeling shortness of breath or rapid breathing, you should immediately have your child checked up by their pediatrician. Another sign of respiratory allergies is a dry, hacking cough with clear mucus. Keep an eye on your child when they are playing. If they seem to get tired very easily or more quickly than other children, this could be a potential sign of allergies.(12, 13)
Allergies in children can also cause intestinal symptoms. If you find that your child often complains of abdominal cramps or has repeated bouts of diarrhea, this could indicate an allergy. Some other symptoms of allergies in children can include excessive fatigue or headache. Allergies are known to also impact a child’s mood and behavior, causing them to be unusually crabby or restless. If you suspect a childhood allergy, you should think about maintaining a symptom log or diary to share with your child’s pediatrician the next time you visit them. Noting the symptom and keeping track of what happens just before the onset of the symptoms will go a long way in helping the pediatrician understand and identify whether it is a pet allergy or food allergy, etc.
Common Types of Early Childhood Allergies
- Fish, such as flounder, cod, and bass
- Shellfish like shrimp, lobster, and crab
- Tree nuts, such as walnuts, cashew nuts, and almonds
Apart from this, many children are unable to tolerate citrus fruits. However, the connection between the allergen and allergy is not always clear, which is why you may have to do some investigating to determine the exact link. For example, traces of peanuts can be found in cereals, while soy can be hidden in thickeners or flavorings commonly found in frozen or processed foods.
Evidence shows that anywhere between 60 to 80 percent of young children tend to outgrow a milk or egg allergy by the time they reach 16 years of age, and 20 percent of children tend to outgrow a peanut allergy. In comparison, four to five percent will grow out of a shellfish or fish allergy by the same age.(16)
Many studies have found that children who have egg, milk, and soy allergies will go on to outgrow their allergies more frequently and at a younger age as compared to those with other allergies. Children who experience more severe reactions are less likely to outgrow their allergies. Research has also shown that children who have a food allergy earlier in life are more likely to outgrow their allergies.(17)
What To Do If Your Child Has Allergy?
If you suspect that your child might have outgrown a food allergy, here are some steps you can take to see if the allergy is gone:
- Work with their allergist to design a plan and to help safely test the allergen. They may ask you to bring your child to do the food challenge in their office under safe circumstances.
- Keep Benadryl (diphenhydramine) or other anti-allergy medicines that are recommended by your doctor hand in case your child ends up having a reaction.
- Make sure you and your child know exactly what has to be done in case of an allergic reaction.
Even if the food challenge shows that you no longer have that allergy and your doctor gives a clean chit that your child no longer has the allergy, you should still continue to monitor them for reactions when they have the food.
Some children may be allergic to pets. The presence of household pets, even if they are shorthaired animals that do not shed, can often be the cause of allergic symptoms in young children. It may be that it’s not the pet itself responsible for the allergies but its dander or dead skin cells, urine, fur, and saliva. If you find that your child wheezes and sneezes after being near, holding, or playing with a pet, you should have them tested for possible animal allergies.
Your pediatrician will help you deal with your child’s allergies and first determine if an allergy is causing your child’s symptoms. They will also assist you in designing a management plan. Easting the symptoms of skin, intestinal, or respiratory allergy may need antihistamines or other medications. At the same time, you must teach your child certain strategies to decrease or avoid allergic reactions, including avoiding the foods that trigger their symptoms, playing outside during high pollen weather, and washing their hands immediately after touching a pet.
- 2022. [online] Available at: <https://www.cdc.gov/healthcommunication/ToolsTemplates/EntertainmentEd/Tips/Allergies.html> [Accessed 11 August 2022].
- BSACI. 2022. Allergy in Children – BSACI. [online] Available at: <https://www.bsaci.org/patients/most-common-allergies/allergy-in-children/#:~:text=Food%20allergy%20affects%203%2D6,in%2020%20developing%20egg%20allergy.> [Accessed 11 August 2022].
- Rona, R.J., Keil, T., Summers, C., Gislason, D., Zuidmeer, L., Sodergren, E., Sigurdardottir, S.T., Lindner, T., Goldhahn, K., Dahlstrom, J. and McBride, D., 2007. The prevalence of food allergy: a meta-analysis. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 120(3), pp.638-646.
- Sicherer, S.H., 2011. Epidemiology of food allergy. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 127(3), pp.594-602.
- Kattan, J., 2016. The prevalence and natural history of food allergy. Current allergy and asthma reports, 16(7), pp.1-7.
- Stlukeshealth.org. 2022. What happens during an allergic reaction. [online] Available at: <https://www.stlukeshealth.org/resources/what-happens-during-an-allergic-reaction> [Accessed 11 August 2022].
- Davidson, B., 2022. What Happens During an Allergic Reaction?. [online] Allergychoices. Available at: <https://www.allergychoices.com/blog/what-happens-during-an-allergic-reaction/> [Accessed 11 August 2022].
- TheList.com. 2022. What Happens To Your Body When You Have An Allergic Reaction. [online] Available at: <https://www.thelist.com/587492/what-happens-to-your-body-when-you-have-an-allergic-reaction/> [Accessed 11 August 2022].
- HealthyChildren.org. 2022. Allergies. [online] Available at: <https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/allergies-asthma/Pages/Allergies.aspx> [Accessed 11 August 2022].
- ACAAI Public Website. 2022. Children and Allergies | Symptoms & Treatment | ACAAI Public Website. [online] Available at: <https://acaai.org/allergies/allergies-101/who-gets-allergies/children/> [Accessed 11 August 2022].
- Aad.org. 2022. Hives: Overview. [online] Available at: <http://www.aad.org/dermatology-a-to-z/diseases-and-treatments/e—h/hives> [Accessed 11 August 2022].
- Silvestsri, M., Oddera, S., Rossi, G.A. and Crimi, P., 1996. Sensitization to airborne allergens in children with respiratory symptoms. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, 76(3), pp.239-244.
- Brunekreef, B., Groot, B. and Hoek, G., 1992. Pets, allergy and respiratory symptoms in children. International journal of epidemiology, 21(2), pp.338-342.
- Żukiewicz-Sobczak, W.A., Wróblewska, P., Adamczuk, P. and Kopczyński, P., 2013. Causes, symptoms and prevention of food allergy. Advances in Dermatology and Allergology/Postępy Dermatologii i Alergologii, 30(2), pp.113-116.
- Sicherer, S.H., 2002. Food allergy. The Lancet, 360(9334), pp.701-710.
- Ramesh, S., 2008. Food allergy overview in children. Clinical reviews in allergy & immunology, 34(2), pp.217-230.
- Ho, M.H.K., Wong, W.H.S. and Chang, C., 2014. Clinical spectrum of food allergies: a comprehensive review. Clinical reviews in allergy & immunology, 46(3), pp.225-240.