A child who sneezes or coughs a lot, who frequently develops a rash or hives, or who gets a stomachache, cramps or nausea after eating certain foods may have allergies. Any child may develop allergies, but they are more common in children from families with a history of such reactions.
Early identification of childhood allergies will improve your child’s quality of life, reduce the number of missed school days and help you avoid having to use sick time or vacation days to care for your child.
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Allergy Symptoms in Children
- Skin rashes or hives (atopic dermatitis or eczema)
- Difficulty breathing (asthma)
- Sneezing, coughing, a runny nose or itchy eyes
- Stomach upset
Common Allergy triggers in Children
- Outdoors: tree pollen, plant pollen, insect bites or stings
- Indoors: pet or animal hair or fur, dust mites, mold
- Irritants: cigarette smoke, perfume, car exhaust
- Foods: peanuts, eggs, milk and milk products
If you suspect your child has an allergy, make an appointment to see an allergist. Start a diary before the appointment and keep track of what symptoms your child experiences and what you think causes them.
Allergic rhinitis (hay fever)
Allergic rhinitis is the most common childhood ailment caused by allergies. Symptoms include a runny and itchy nose, sneezing, postnasal drip and nasal congestion (blockage). A child with allergies may also have itchy, watery, red eyes and chronic ear problems. Even though it’s commonly known as “hay fever,” allergic rhinitis isn’t triggered by hay and doesn’t cause fever.
Allergies are the most common cause of chronic nasal congestion (a stuffy nose) in children. Sometimes a child’s nose is congested to the point that he or she breathes through the mouth, especially while sleeping. This may also cause the child to not get a restful night’s sleep and then be tired the next day. If the congestion and mouth-breathing are left untreated, they can affect the growth of teeth and the bones of the face. Early treatment of the allergies causing the nasal congestion may prevent these problems.
Allergies lead to inflammation in the ear and may cause fluid accumulation that can promote ear infections and decreased hearing. A baby whose hearing is impaired for any reason while learning to talk may develop poor speech. Allergies can cause earaches as well as ear itching, popping and fullness (“stopped-up ears”). Anyone with these symptoms should see an allergist for possible testing and treatment.
As many as 6 million children in the United States have some form of food allergy.
If a new mother is breast-feeding, some especially sensitive babies can have allergic reactions to foods their mothers eat. Babies can be tested for allergies. Eliminating these foods from the mother’s diet may provide relief for the child.
The most common allergies in children are to peanuts and milk; other frequently seen triggers include eggs, fish, shellfish (crab, lobster, crayfish and shrimp), soy, tree nuts (for example, pecans, cashews and walnuts) and wheat. The most severe reactions are typically to peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish — all allergies that can last a lifetime. Children often outgrow allergies to milk, eggs, soy and wheat.
All parents of a child with a food allergy should be aware of the possibility of anaphylaxis — a potentially life-threatening reaction that impairs breathing, causes a sudden drop in blood pressure and can send a body into shock. For that reason, most children with food allergies are prescribed epinephrine (adrenaline), administered with an auto-injector as soon as symptoms develop.
Allergies and school
Your child’s school should be informed of any allergies. If your child has asthma or a severe allergy, give a copy of your child’s action plan to the school nurse or the administrative office. Also, discuss your child’s access to medication, including epinephrine (adrenaline), in case of an emergency.
- School pets: Furry animals in school may cause problems for allergic children. If your child has allergy or asthma symptoms while at school including coughing, difficulty breathing, a rash, runny nose or sneezing, it could be the class pet.
- Asthma and physical education: Physical education and sports are a big part of the school day for many children. Having asthma does not mean eliminating these activities. Children with asthma and other allergic diseases should be able to participate in any sport the child chooses, provided the doctor’s advice is followed. Asthma symptoms during exercise may indicate poor control, so be sure that your child is taking controller asthma medications on a regular basis. Often medication administered by an inhaler is prescribed before exercise to control symptoms.
- Dust irritation: At school, children with allergic problems may need to sit away from the blackboard to avoid irritation from chalk dust.