by: Michael Kabel
Allergies at their worst can mean the difference between an active, playful childhood and years of careful vigilance. For smaller children, allergies can sometimes be an indicator of more complicated respiratory problems. But for parents concerned their child may already suffer from allergic reactions, the danger of misunderstanding or mistaking allergic symptoms from common illness is a constant source of anxiety.
Allergies are actually a means of the body to protect itself from substances in the environment that it recognizes as harmful. The substances that trigger allergic reactions, known as allergens, enter the body and immediately provoke a response in the form of histamines and other chemicals that the body produces specifically to expel hazardous substances from the body. Sneezing, runny eyes and coughing, and skin rashes are all ways the body uses to fight allergens - often to its own discomfort.
The most common allergies in children come from pollen, ragweed, molds, and fungi. Other common allergies include dust mites, animal dander, some forms of food and insects, and some everyday chemicals.
Nasal allergies are among the most common type of allergic reactions, and in which the baby experiences frequent or constant sneezing, coughing, and runny eyes and nose. The most common causes of nasal allergies in children are dust mites, animal dander, and molds. Some children are also allergic to feathers (such as found in feather pillows) and chenille and wool blankets.
As might be expected, many nasal allergies are at their most vehement during times of the year when air quality is compromised by increased pollen and dust counts. Because they coincide with spring and fall, these types of nasal allergies are also referred to as seasonal allergies. For those with mold or yeast allergies, the rainier months of the year (and by extension more humid climates) present a number of challenges that can be controlled with medication and careful monitoring.
Food allergies can result when a child consumes or comes into contact with a particular substance. Many children are at first allergic to glutton, an ingredient of some grain products, though this allergy is typically outgrown early in childhood. Other allergies include rice, wheat, seafood, and some vegetables. Food allergies can be particularly painful, leading to hyperventilation, shortness of breath, fevers, skin rashes, and teary eyes.
Parents can take heart in knowing that allergies do not develop right away. Allergens take time to build up in a child's system, and symptoms are sometimes slow to present themselves. Children may build an allergy up over several months and then, when the body reaches its "breaking point" explode into adverse reactions.
Allergies, especially the unsightly symptoms of nasal allergies, can be painful for babies and often a source of embarrassment for young children. When left unsupervised, they also pose the danger of debilitating the respiratory system, leaving the child vulnerable to asthma and bronchitis, though in modern cases this is often quite rare. The most common disadvantages to severe allergies often take the form of limitations - a reduced ability to comfortably play outdoors, for example. Ear infections and sinus infections are also common by-products of allergy problems.
For parents, the possibility of allergies in their child is a call to careful attention and even some detective work. When confronted with an outbreak of allergic symptoms in the child, parents can monitor or even record the time, place, and circumstances, matching the child's experiences with certain allergens. They may also want to consult a pediatrician or allergist, who can perform tests to determine both the type of allergy and the amount of allergy antibodies in the bloodstream. As a guideline, many specific allergies are genetic and likely to be passed down between generations, from either parent.
Some typical signs of prolonged allergy suffering also include persistent (more than 10 days) cold-like symptoms; breathing through the mouth; itchy skin rashes; allergic shiners - deep purple or blue shiners beneath the eyes; constant sneezing; thin or clear, watery mucus. While none of these symptoms alone necessarily points to allergies, in conjunction with one another they often act as a red marker for allergic reactions to the child's environment.
Perhaps the best news is the amount of help and treatment pioneered in just the last few years. A number of both prescription drugs and OTC medications have allowed allergy sufferers to manage their allergies more efficiently, replacing the painful antihistamine injections common among chronic sufferers twenty years ago.