Most of us are familiar with the term ‘allergy’, and use it quite frequently. By definition, an allergy is an abnormal response of the immune system if the human body to an allergen (an agent that can trigger allergy). Allergies in children are quite common in today’s context. Many children attending pediatric clinics today do so for allergy-related complaints.
An allergy can crop up at any age and can continue for months or years until the child outgrows it, or till the allergen is discovered and eliminated from the child’s environment. Allergies are usually a result of both genetic susceptibility and environmental stimulation.
Types of Allergies in children:
Allergies in children can involve any or all of three or four systems:
1) The nose, throat and chest (respiratory allergies)
2) The skin (cutaneous allergy)
3) The stomach and intestines (gastrointestinal allergies or food allergies)
4) The eyes (ocular allergy)
Allergic symptoms depend on the system involved.
These manifest with a blocked or a runny itchy nose, sneezing, hoarseness of voice, cough and wheezing or breathlessness. Asthma too is often allergic in origin.
These manifest with redness of skin, itching, rash, redness, scaling or peeing of skin and burning. The resultant itching often reddens the skin and can lead to a loss of skin and secondary infection.
Stomach and Intestinal Allergies:
These manifests with nausea, vomiting, burping, bloating, pain in the abdomen, passing of gas and loose motions – not infrequently with mucus and blood.
These causes redness of eyes, pain, irritation, itchiness and discharge.
When external agents or allergens come in contact with the child and its immune system, they cause exaggerated responses called allergies. The list of allergens is literally endless, but children are commonly allergic to:
- Skin cream and powders
- Drugs like penicillin and sulphas
- Food items like seafood, nuts, milk (especially cow’s milk), food colors and preservatives.
- Smoke – especially cigarette smoke
- Insect and insect bites
- Suspended particles in the atmosphere, etc.
When the immune system first comes in contact with the potential allergen, it gets sensitized to them. In other words, one may not identify many allergies on the first exposure. Subsequently, however, the immune system is primed and ready. When it encounters the allergen again, it kicks off a series of chemical reactions in the body. These include release of substances like histamine, serotonin, and prostaglandins etc, which then produce symptoms of allergy.
Lately, medical research has implicated two more factors in the development of allergies, namely:
b)Early introduction of solids to infants, especially before age of six months.
Allergies are usually easy to diagnose with medical monitoring of the child’s various symptoms. Isolating the cause of the allergy (identification of the allergen) is far more difficult. The list of potential culprits is endless and almost anything in the atmosphere can be an allergen to a child. That is why doctors often advise parents to ‘play detective’ – to figure out if the child gets allergic symptoms under specific of circumstances.
This involves looking for the same allergic symptoms after the child eats a particular food, plays in the garden, gets bitten by a bug, is in a particular room or reacts most in a particular season.
Nevertheless many an allergen eludes diagnosis. In such a case, the physician may have to resort to allergy testing – either by repeatedly subjecting the child to different known allergens or by doing expensive blood tests. These processes can obviously be quite unpleasant but are necessary.
Treatment of all allergies rests on identifying the allergen and removing it or in removing the child from the allergy-causing circumstances. General measure like keeping the house, pets and upholstery clean and monitoring the ingredients of all food items that the child consumes often help reduce allergic symptoms.
Specific treatment includes administering anti-allergic medication, which reduce the amount of chemicals that the body secrets. These, popularly called antihistamines are often used to control acute allergies. Their use is justified when the allergic symptoms are extremely distressing both to the child and to the parent. However, these medicines have their own side effects such as drowsiness and dryness of mouth.
Severe cases may call for allergy desensitizing in which the doctor administers to or injects the child with an allergen in slowly increasing doses. The intended effect is to get the child’s immune system to get used to the agent and therefore stop reacting.
Apart from allopathic medicines, many turn to homeopathy or Ayurveda for the treatment of a child’s allergies.
By Dr. P.V.Vaidyanathan
Source: Parenting & You