Allergies are very common in infants and children. Allergies occur when the immune system overreacts to a normally harmless substance, treating it as an invader and trying to fight it off.

The symptoms of an allergic reaction can range from mild to severe. While allergies can’t be cured, they can be effectively managed with lifestyle changes, medications, and avoiding triggers.

With the right treatment plan, children with allergies can live happy, active lives. Here’s a short summary of allergies in babies and children, including symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options.

If your child has allergies, you can book an appointment to see me in clinic.

Overview

Allergies involve the immune system mistakenly identifying harmless substances like foods, pollen, or pet dander as dangerous invaders.

When exposed to these allergens, the immune system releases chemicals like histamine to attack the perceived threat. This causes allergy symptoms. Any substance that triggers an allergic reaction is called an allergen.

Common allergens for kids include foods like cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish; airborne particles like pollen, dust mites, and pet dander; insect stings; medications like penicillin; and latex.

Allergies can develop at any age, but they are most common in childhood. According to Allergy UK about 5-8% of children have food allergies and up to 40% of children have been diagnosed with an allergy.

The four most common allergies in children are food allergy, eczema, asthma, and hay fever.

Lastly, allergies often run in families.

Testimonials

Patient’s parent via Doctify, for allergies

“Really knowledgeable. He didn’t want us to leave if we still had any questions or if we were confused about anything.”

Symptoms

Allergy symptoms may affect the respiratory system, skin, gastrointestinal tract, or cardiovascular system. Mild to moderate allergy symptoms can include:

  • Runny or stuffy nose, sneezing
  • Red, itchy, watery eyes
  • Itchy mouth or throat
  • Hives, eczema, rash, redness and itching of the skin
  • Coughing, wheezing
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea
  • Stomach pain, reflux

Severe allergic reactions can progress to anaphylaxis which is a life-threatening reaction affecting multiple body systems. Emergency symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

  • Difficulty breathing, wheezing
  • Swelling of the tongue or throat
  • Low blood pressure, dizziness, fainting
  • Rapid heart rate

Causes

Allergies happen when the immune system mistakenly identifies a harmless substance as harmful. It then releases antibodies like immunoglobulin E (IgE) to attack the allergen. This releases inflammatory chemicals like histamine which cause the symptoms.

People inherit a tendency for allergies through genes. But environmental factors also play a role. For example, early exposure to some allergens like peanuts may help prevent peanut allergies. While later exposure can trigger allergy development.

Allergies are also more common in industrialised nations and polluted areas. Researchers are still studying exactly why some people develop allergies while others don’t.

Diagnosis

I will use medical history, physical exam, and tests to diagnose allergies. I will ask about symptoms, family history of allergies, and possible triggers.

Skin or blood tests can help identify specific allergens. With a skin prick test, possible allergens are placed on the skin. If a red, itchy bump develops, it indicates an allergy.

Blood tests like RAST measure IgE antibodies to known allergens. Multiple allergens can be tested in one sample, making it my preferable way of allergy testing.

I may also suggest an elimination diet or oral food challenge to diagnose food allergies.

Treatment

Allergies can’t be cured, but they can be effectively managed with medications, avoiding triggers, and lifestyle changes. Depending on the child, I may recommend things like:

  • Oral antihistamines like Zyrtec or Claritin, which help block histamine and relieve symptoms of sneezing, itching, and runny nose.
  • Nasal corticosteroid sprays to help reduce inflammation in the nasal passages.
  • Immunotherapy or allergy shots to help desensitize the immune system to some allergens over time.
  • Epinephrine auto-injectors, like EpiPen, can quickly counteract severe allergic reactions. Usually, they are prescribed by your GP.
  • Eliminating triggers from the child’s environment reduces exposure. For food allergies, reading labels and avoiding cross-contamination is key
  • Probiotics may help promote healthy gut bacteria and reduce risk of some allergies.

For mild reactions, over-the-counter antihistamines and close monitoring may be sufficient.

Severe reactions usually require epinephrine (Epipen) and emergency medical care.

In all cases, I work with families to create a comprehensive management plan tailored to the child’s specific allergies and sensitivities.

Lifestyle Changes and Coping Strategies

Living with allergies requires some adaptations:

  • Read food labels carefully and avoid any allergens.
  • Wash hands before and after eating. Clean surfaces and utensils.
  • Create an allergen-free zone at home by using allergen-proof covers for bedding and furniture. Use HEPA air filters
  • Limit stuffed toys which collect dust and wash bedding weekly in hot water at 60 C.
  • Monitor pollen counts and limit outdoor time accordingly. Shower after being outside.
  • Carry emergency epinephrine at all times. Make sure caregivers know how to use it.
  • Help children learn how to manage their allergies responsibly. Teach them to avoid sharing food and to always carry epinephrine.
  • Communicate with teachers and caregivers about allergies and prevention/response plans.
  • Join a support group to connect with other families managing allergies.

Support Resources

Living with severe allergies can be challenging. Connecting with support resources helps:

  • Allergy UK’s Parent Pathways
  • Local allergy associations and support groups
  • Online parent support forums for sharing tips

Frequently Asked Questions

Will my child outgrow their food allergies?

Some food allergies like cow’s milk or egg are often outgrown by school age. But allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish usually persist for life.

How can I childproof my home for allergies?

Create an allergen-free zone in your kitchen and your child’s bedroom. Use wipeable covers and wash bedding weekly. Install HEPA air filters and limit stuffed toys.

What is oral immunotherapy?

Oral immunotherapy involves giving the child small but increasing amounts of the allergen under medical supervision to try to desensitise their immune system to it over time. It shows promise for some food allergies like peanuts.

Will my child's allergies affect their social life?

You’ll need to help your child learn to manage their allergies responsibly, especially when eating away from home. Teach them to always carry epinephrine, read labels, and avoid sharing food.

How do I advocate for my child at school/daycare?

Meet with staff to create prevention and response plans. Provide epinephrine (if there is risk of anaphylaxis) and safe snacks. Ensure staff are trained to use epinephrine. Request allergen-free tables.

Summary

While allergies can’t be cured, the right treatment and prevention strategies allow children with allergies to live happy, unrestricted lives.

I’ll work closely with you and your child to diagnose allergies accurately, help you avoid triggers, and create a personalised management plan.