It's spring, and you are wondering if your little one's sneezes will spread when she joins her friends at play. Or it is autumn, and your child's teacher suggests a couple sick days at home for your young one's symptoms.
Or winter, or summer...because that's just the thing: allergies can occur anytime. If your child seems to get ill more often than average, maybe it is time to ask if they suffer from allergies.
According to statistics from a 2010 Center for Disease Control (CDC) survey of US residents (the most recent data available):
- 7.1 million ( 9.5%) of children reported hay fever
- 8.6 million (11.5%) reported respiratory allergies
- 3.4 million (4.6%) reported food allergies
- 9.4 million (12.6%) reported skin allergies
You can see from the percentages that allergies are still the exception rather than the rule. But allergies, which can range from annoying to life threatening, certainly rule the lives of those who suffer them.
See the next page to learn about the common signs of allergies.
1: Runny Noses and Itchy Eyes
For the first day or two of a cold, noses may run clear, but the mucous soon takes on a yellowish or greenish hue. If your child has had a runny nose for a week or more and the mucous remains clear, it is a strong sign of an allergic reaction.
Do you catch your child persistently itching their eyes, even grinding little fists into reddened sockets? Colds and fevers can make eyes red or runny, but itchy eyes usually means allergies.
2: Fever or Sore Throat
Allergies never cause a fever or sore throat/horseness. But allergies can make your child more susceptible to getting ill because runny nasal cavities make an inviting home to bacteria and viruses. Your pediatrician may treat the flu and miss the underlying cause, which is masked by the symptoms of real illness. Tell your pediatrician if illnesses are preceded by long periods of clear sniffles or itchy eyes.
3: Family and Friends
©iStockphoto.com/Carmen Martínez Banús
Allergies frequently run in families. When siblings or parents suffer allergies, extra diligence in diagnosing and treating the condition should be exercised. Conversely, if a child's running nose or cough has jumped to friends and family, they probably suffer from a cold or flu. Allergies are not contagious.
4: Coughing or Wheezing
Hopefully a cough or a wheeze signifies a common cold, but there is a correlation between allergies and asthma. If your child's allergic symptoms have progressed to coughing or wheezing, it is definitely high time to talk to your pediatrician.
In addition to looking for medical symptoms that differentiate allergies from illnesses, your pediatrician will probably order a patch test. This consists of sticking a grid with small amounts of different allergens, such as plant pollens, onto your child's skin. After a period of time, the patch is removed. Red spots on the skin indicate an allergy to the substance in that quadrant of the patch grid.
Allergies and asthma are chronic conditions that require treatment and control, so be sure to share your suspicions with your pediatrician. Your observations as a parent provide the best help to your child's doctor as she selects the groups of potential allergens to test, and helps you decide on the best course of treatment.
5: Food or Contact Allergies
Frequent runny tummies, rashes or redness of the skin may indicate contact or food allergies. It can be very tricky to figure out what causes these.
Just because your child ate something or wore something without problems before, you cannot rule it out as the trigger of an allergic reaction. Allergies require "sensitization." They arise only after one or more exposures cause the body to diagnose the allergen as a dangerous interloper and prepare the immune system to fight next time the allergen is encountered.
If you think your child is having an allergic reaction, simplify their diet or reduce the number of things (soaps, fabrics, jewelry, etc.) coming in contact with their skin. Slowly re-introduce different things back into your child's life and watch to see if the reaction recurs. If you are suspicious that a consumer product caused the reaction, you can try to find "secret information" about the product in a safety data sheet online.
For more information, see the links on the next page.