Allergies happen when your immune defenses overreact to something in the environment. They decide that that molecule of pollen is a dangerous invader and it needs to be killed. Queue the mucus, swelling and itching.
If your child has the tendency to wheeze, queue the airway spasm as well.
If he or she has sensitive skin, also expect an outbreak of dry itchy patches.
If they keep the mucus, swelling and wheezing for a while, they can develop secondary infections like earaches, sinus and pneumonia.
What triggers allergies?
Kids can be allergic to a multitude of things. They can react seasonally to flowers in the spring, to grasses in the summer and fall, or to wood fires and Christmas trees in the winter. Year round allergens include molds, mildews and dust mites (tiny bugs that live in dust and upholstery and feed on flakes of skin). Many children are allergic to pets, especially to cats and birds. They can react to the pet’s feathers, fur, saliva or skin scale. The poisons in cigarettes are common triggers, as are fumes like perfume and pollution. Some kids react to contact with latex or metals like nickel.
How do we prevent an attack?
We can’t cure allergies – all we can do is try to keep them under control. If possible, avoid the allergen. If your child is allergic to cats, don’t buy him or her a kitten. Never smoke in your house or car.
Keep your home, especially your child’s room, free of dust. Unfortunately, this is even harder than it sounds. It means keeping your air conditioner on and buying filters that catch allergens. Cover your child’s mattress and pillow with zip up covers designed to contain dust mites. Don’t use curtains in his or her room, or wash them weekly. Limit stuffed animals to those you can wash in hot water with their bed linens once a week. Vacuum daily (sorry). Dust with a damp cloth.
If your child is allergic to molds, fix any damp areas in your home. Use that bathroom vent – timers work great, and are easy to install. Clear out vegetation close to the house, and discard any dead plant bits.
If avoidance is not enough, your munchkin can take an antihistamine as needed. Try to stick with the newer, non-sedating antihistamines: claritin, zyrtec or allegra and their generics. If an exposure is inevitable (“We have to go to Grandma’s and you know she has that cat!”) you can give them an antihistamine about an hour before. If they are going to be exposed to their allergy trigger every day (springtime pollens?), they can take the antihistamine every day, if you buy the non-sedating type. If their allergies are chronic, a daily nose spray can also help prevent the symptoms.
Allergy testing can help to pinpoint what the allergen is, so you know what to avoid or clean up. Knowledge is power. It does no good to find a new home for the cat if the child is only allergic to mold. Poor kitty.
Last, if avoidance and medicine are not enough, your physician will bring up the subject of allergy shots…