Allergies happen when a body’s immune defenses overreact to something in the environment. They decide that a molecule of pollen or mold 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, sinusitis 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 cats and birds–and react to the pet’s feathers, fur, saliva or skin scale. The poisons in cigarettes are common triggers, as are fumes like perfume and air pollution. Scents and dyes in soaps and detergents can cause allergic reactions. Some kids react to contact with latex or metals like nickel.
Food allergies are different–a whole blog in themselves. Hmmm… maybe next week?
How do we prevent or treat an allergy 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. Ditto for birds, dogs, hamsters…
- Never smoke in your house or car.
- If the allergy is to pollens, keep your air conditioner on seasonally and buy filters that catch allergens.
- Dust mites? Cover your child’s mattress and pillow with zip up covers designed to contain them.
- 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 (also sorry).
- 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.
Medicines can help prevent allergic reactions.
If avoidance is not enough, your munchkin can take an antihistamine as needed to block the allergic reaction. 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 for a while (springtime pollen?), they can take the antihistamine every day, if you buy the non-sedating type. If their allergies are chronic, a daily steroid nose spray or a preventative medicine called Singulair (montelukast sodium) can also help prevent the symptoms.
Offer them lots of water to wash the allergens out of their system.
If they still have symptoms, allergy testing can help to pinpoint exactly what they are allergic to, 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 kitten.
Last, if avoidance and medication are not enough, your physician will bring up the subject of allergy shots to desensitize your munchkin to the allergen. He or she will not be thrilled.
Allergies are miserable, but there are things you can do to make your child more comfortable. Prevent the exposure if you can, and give medication if you can’t–either a short term antihistamine or longer term preventative nasal sprays or montelukast sodium. Consider allergy testing and shots when those simpler therapies don’t work. And hydrate. Soon, the season will change.