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Most childhood allergies are fairly mild, but the symptoms can be very uncomfortable and allergic reactions can sometimes be serious. Common allergy symptoms include a red, itchy rash, sneezing, a blocked or runny nose, red, itchy or watery eyes, and wheezing or coughing. If your child has asthma or eczema, an allergic reaction can cause their symptoms to flare up.
More severe allergic reactions can cause anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock. This is a potentially life threatening allergic reaction that can cause swelling of the eyes, lips, hands, feet, throat and tongue. It can make breathing and swallowing difficult, which could be fatal if your child doesn’t receive treatment quickly. Wheezing, abdominal pain, vomiting, light-headedness, a rash, and fainting can also be signs of anaphylactic shock.
The symptoms of an allergy usually appear very quickly, within a few minutes of contact with the allergen. However, the symptoms can last for a long time if your child keeps getting exposed to the allergen. For example, hay fever can last for weeks or even months because it can be impossible to avoid the pollen that is causing it. The symptoms can therefore be confused with a cold or infection.
Allergies are very common, particularly during childhood. They happen when our immune systems respond to a specific trigger or allergen that is usually harmless. You can develop an allergy to anything, at any time, even as an adult, but some kinds of allergies are more common than others.
The trigger for an allergy could be something that your child has eaten, something that has come into contact with their skin, or something that they have breathed in. Common allergies include nuts, medications like antibiotics, dust mites, mould, household chemicals, toiletries, insect bites or stings, and animal hair or dander. Some people have one very specific allergy, but a wide range of allergies may affect others.
Hay fever, is the name given to a range of symptoms including, itchy eyes, sneezing, itchy runny nose, and is triggered by pollen. It might be triggered by a particular type of pollen, or by many different kinds, but it usually occurs at particular times of the year when there is more pollen in the air.
If you suspect that your child has an allergy, it is important to see a doctor to get a diagnosis. You need to find out exactly what is causing the problem so that you can take steps to avoid it or remove it from your home. Signs that an allergy may be to blame include symptoms that keep coming back, that don’t go away like a normal cold, or that are linked to a particular trigger.
You should seek urgent medical care if you think that your child is experiencing a severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis, even if he or she has not been diagnosed with an allergy. If you notice swelling or your child is having breathing difficulties, you should seek help immediately.
Getting an accurate diagnosis for an allergy is important. Your doctor will be able to rule out any other potential causes of the symptoms and help you to identify the specific cause of the problem. Once you know what is triggering the allergic reaction, you will be able to take steps to avoid it and prevent problems in the future. It is best to get medical advice before cutting anything out of your child’s diet or making any drastic changes at home, so that you don’t waste time avoiding falsely identified triggers. Tests may be needed to confirm what is causing your child’s allergy. Skin prick tests are the most common type of investigation and are painless and very well tolerated by children. Occasionally a blood test will be required, which will be carried out by a children’s phlebotomist who is an expert in the procedure and will use ‘cold spray’ or an anaesthetic cream, to reduce the discomfort to your child.
Once the allergy has been identified, your doctor may recommend medication to help manage the symptoms when your child does have a reaction. Antihistamines can be taken to calm the immune system and prevent it from overreacting to an allergen and help reduce symptoms of itchy eyes, and sneezing. Other treatments such as a nasal spray for a blocked nose or moisturisers for itchy skin, can help relieve particular symptoms. Steroid medications, in nasal sprays and eczema creams, can also help to reduce swelling and inflammation. In some cases, your doctor may recommend immunotherapy, which can help to reduce an allergic response through repeated, carefully controlled exposure to the trigger. Immunotherapy is now increasingly used to treat children who suffer severe hay fever symptoms or those who suffer respiratory symptoms and are very allergic to house dust mites.
If your child is at risk of a severe allergic reaction, you may be given an EpiPen to use if you see signs of anaphylactic shock. You will need to learn how to use this medication and to ensure that it is always available near your child, at home and at school. It could save your child’s life and enable them to reach hospital for further treatment. In such cases you will be given a written treatment plan.