Pediatric Allergies: A Comprehensive Guide for Parents and Caregivers

Parents know that little ones tend to pick up all kinds of sickness, but did you know that what may look and sound like everyday cold symptoms could actually be allergies? Sneezing here, a little coughing there, a runny nose that won’t subside…it can be easy to miss a child’s triggers if they pick up common schoolyard bugs like kids do! We’re here to break down common pediatric allergies, help you identify potential allergies through common symptoms, and know when to take them to see a specialist.

Allergies in children—also known as pediatric allergies—are overreactions of the immune system and they occur when the immune system tries to fight off substances it deems as harmful to the system such as dust, pollen, pet dander, or food. Visible allergy symptoms like coughing or sneezing are the body’s reaction to inflammatory chemicals called histamines. These are released from the body’s white blood cells while trying to fight off these foreign substances. Reactions may also differ depending on what your child is allergic to. For instance, a food allergy may cause dermatologic and gastrointestinal distress but an allergy to pet dander may cause excessive sneezing or itchy eyes.

If you suspect your child has allergies, know that this condition is not rare, and you are not alone in seeking a diagnosis and treatment for this common issue! It is estimated that 7.1 million kids in the United States are reported to have environmental allergies. Through comprehensive testing conducted by a specialist, you can better understand your child’s triggers and long-term needs when it comes to effectively treating and managing allergy symptoms.

Types of Pediatric Allergies

When it comes to the various types of pediatric allergies, there are several! However, the most common are food, environmental, seasonal, and those caused by medications.

You may be wondering how these are diagnosed – and the good news is that it can be as simple as seeing an allergy specialist. For each of these different types of allergies, the best way to get a clear diagnosis is to visit your provider for a consultation. They can work with you one-on-one to conduct comprehensive testing to determine the best treatment options and ongoing care in case your child comes into contact with their trigger. Common tests used to diagnose the allergies we discussed include skin and blood tests. A skin test will measure the level of IgE antibody response to certain allergens. Small amounts of solutions that contain different allergens are injected under the skin and the area will be monitored for redness and swelling which will indicate a reaction. In the case of a blood test, this can measure IgE antibodies to certain allergens in the blood and may often be conducted when skin tests can’t be done.

Benefits of Introducing Allergens Early in Childhood

While it is never easy to discover your child has an allergy and even more difficult to manage it throughout your child’s life, it can be extremely beneficial to introduce allergens early in childhood—before you know whether they may have one. This is especially true when it comes to food allergies. Studies have shown introducing, for example, peanut foods early can help lower the odds of a child developing a severe peanut allergy later and does not put them at a greater risk for the food allergy.

When it comes to environmental allergies like pet dander, dust, or mold—like food allergies—studies have shown that early exposure to these allergens can be very beneficial in protecting children from developing fewer allergies and even asthma. The sooner the better when introducing your child to allergens!

Avoiding and Managing Triggers

As important as it is to introduce kids to allergens early on and identify their triggers through skin or blood testing, it is even more important to learn how to avoid and manage them.

Avoiding Allergens in Kids

When it comes to food allergies, avoiding triggers can be as simple as keeping foods that cause allergy symptoms out of the house. When it’s not around, there is no reason to worry about little hands getting into things that can cause an allergic reaction.

A couple of other strategies include:

  • Checking ingredients on packages when you’re grocery shopping, and
  • Asking a waiter or chef at a restaurant about menu items.

Trigger foods like peanuts, eggs, and dairy products can sneak their way into our everyday foods. Avoiding triggers when your child has environmental allergies, however, can be a bit more difficult. Simply leaving the house can cause a reaction, but we have a few strategies that can help keep them at bay.

When it comes to pollen and grasses:

  • Try to keep windows closed during their peak season, especially during the day
  • Bathe your kids and change their clothes after playing outside, and
  • Be sure to check pollen counts before leaving the house.

Managing Allergens in Kids

Managing your child’s allergy symptoms can look different based on their allergy and how severe it is. This is a great topic to discuss with an allergy specialist, but before you make an appointment here are a few helpful tips for managing symptoms.

  • Keep a nasal spray handy. Nasal sprays help to flush out allergens and relieve nasal congestion.
  • Use oral antihistamines. They vary by how long they last, but these can help block the agents responsible for swelling in your child’s body.

Developing An Allergy Action Plan

We hope that we never run into an emergency, but severe allergic reactions can be unpredictable and happen anywhere, so it is always best to be prepared. How do we do this? With an allergy action plan! This will help if your child has a serious allergic reaction, and what to do in an emergency. Below is a helpful checklist for you as a parent of a child with serious allergies:

  1. Make sure your child always has at least two epinephrine auto-injectors with them (or with the adult who is caring for the child). In case one does not work, a second will be available as a backup. It is also a good idea to teach the child how to get a hold of them quickly if needed.
  2. Review an emergency plan with your doctor and know the signs of an anaphylactic reaction such as trouble breathing, rash, swelling, vomiting, fainting, or wheezing.
  3. Practice using the epinephrine injector often as there are a few steps to take: how to properly remove the cap, which end rests on the skin, where to inject, how to hold it, etc. It is best to ask for a demonstration at your specialist’s office, and as the child gets older, make sure they start practicing as well.
  4. Be sure to have someone call 911, whether that is a present adult or the child themselves.
  5. Ensure proper storage of the epinephrine pens according to the manufacturer’s directions. Do not leave them in too hot or too cold temperatures that may render them ineffective in an emergency. And always check expiration dates.

Now let’s have a deeper look at the various types of pediatric allergies, the most common allergen, symptoms to be aware of, and how best to manage them.

Food Allergies in Children

The first is food allergies. A food allergy is the body’s abnormal response to a certain food that the immune system decides is “dangerous.” The reason? Well, it’s not clear, but doctors believe genetics plays a factor. When a child with allergies comes into contact with a food they’re allergic to, antibodies that react to that food release histamines.

The most common foods that cause allergies are:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Wheat
  • Soy
  • Nuts
  • Fish

Some reactions to be aware of if your child has a good allergy are:

  • Hives
  • Asthma
  • Itching
  • Swelling

In order to avoid reactions, be sure to read labels, send your child to school with an allergy-free lunch, and ensure the school staff is aware of the allergy and has an action plan prepared in case of an emergency.

Environmental Allergies in Children

The next is environmental allergies, also called allergic rhinitis. These allergies occur when a child’s immune system reacts to elements in the environment by attacking them as if they’re germs. This reaction typically takes place in the nose, eyes, and throat when airborne allergens trigger the release of histamines. This reaction can occur year-round, however, if it seems to only occur at certain times of the year, this is known as seasonal allergies or hay fever. The most common causes of environmental allergies in kids are pollen, dust mites, mold, and pet dander.

Seasonal Allergies in Children

As mentioned, seasonal allergies usually fall, well, during a certain season! Allergic reactions happen during certain times of the year when grasses, weeds, and/or pollen particles are released into the air. It is possible to be allergic to one or more types of pollen and the symptoms that occur depend on the type the child is most sensitive to. For example, in the mid-Atlantic states, tree pollen is the highest from February-June, grass pollen from May-August, and weed pollen from July-October. Children with these allergies are the most likely to experience symptoms like sneezing, congestion, and an itchy nose at those times.

Medication Allergies in Children

Finally, allergies to medications—also known as drug allergies—occur when the immune system overreacts to something in the medicine. It is important to know that drug allergies are not the same as side effects. Side effects are expected, possible adverse effects to the medicine that are not caused by the immune system and are often not usually serious. An allergic reaction to a particular medication may cause skin rashes and hives, swelling of the lips and mouth, trouble breathing, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.

Consult A Specialist

While pediatric allergies can be difficult to spot, and often look like the common cold, it is better to be safe than sorry when deciding to seek help from a specialist. Sneezing, coughing, and itchy,watery eyes are all signs of allergies that could be brewing throughout the year. When working with an expert allergy and immunology specialist like Dr. Praveen Buddiga, you can be sure to get to the bottom of those symptoms and discuss long-term treatment options that will keep symptoms at bay.

Schedule your appointment today for a consultation and testing.

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