Allergies are nothing to sneeze at according to experts at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital. If your child has allergies, he or she is not alone. Allie, Christina and Francesca Soave are just three of the nearly seven million children in the United States who have some type of allergy.
Allergies are abnormal immune system reactions to triggers like foods, dust, plant pollen or medicines that are harmless to most people. The substances that cause allergic reactions are called allergens, and allergic symptoms tell a person that he or she has swallowed, inhaled or come into contact with something that the immune system mistakenly perceives as harmful.
"Reactions to allergens can be as mild as a runny nose, or as severe as difficulty breathing," said Christine Schaefer, M.D., board-certified allergist, Helen DeVos Children's Hospital. "Asthma can be triggered by allergens resulting in wheezing or cough. Other types of allergies s produce multiple symptoms, and in some rare cases, can cause a person's body to go into shock."
The most common allergies are related to food and airborne allergens such as pollen, mold, dust mites and animal dander. Allergens can be seasonal, such as pollen, or year-round, such as dust mites. Allergies are also hereditary, if parents have allergies, there is a 75 percent chance their children will too.
Consult your child's doctor if your child:
- Has cold-like symptoms that last longer than a week or two
- Seems to develop a cold at the same time every year
- Has a chronic cough or runny nose
- Has experienced a frightening reaction to food or an insect sting
Your child's doctor will ask questions about the nature of the symptoms and when they appear. Based on the answers to these questions and a physical exam, the doctor may make a diagnosis and prescribe medications. Your child's doctor may even refer you to an allergist for allergy skin tests and more extensive therapy.
The cause of allergies can be determined by testing a child's reaction to specific allergens. Tony and Kate Soave - Allie, Christina, and Francesca's parents - elected to test their daughters for allergies. Treatment over the years for the girls has varied but included oral medication and allergy injections.
Allergy shots may be recommended to help desensitize your child to the allergy and build a type of immunity to specific allergens.
Your child's doctor or allergist may recommend you remove, reduce or even eliminate the problem that is causing your child's allergies. This may be as simple as cleaning more regularly to prevent the buildup of certain molds or adding a filtration unit in your child's bedroom.
If your child is diagnosed with a food allergy, avoiding the food is the only way to prevent an allergic reaction. If your child is extremely sensitive to a particular food, or if the child has asthma in addition to the food allergy, the doctor will probably recommend that you carry injectable epinephrine or adrenaline to counteract the allergic reaction in the event of an inadvertent exposure.
"Controlled through medications and injections, managing allergy often becomes routine for families and does not significantly impact their lives," added Schaefer. "The Soave family is an example of how allergies can be managed and do not limit full, healthy lives."
Helen DeVos Children's Hospital is West Michigan's largest children's hospital, serving children and families throughout a 37-county region. A teaching hospital, it includes more than 150 pediatric specialty physicians uniquely skilled in providing medical and surgical care to children in more than 40 pediatric specialties. The hospital cares for more than 7,600 inpatients and 190,000 outpatients annually. Helen DeVos Children's Hospital is committed to caring for children and families with compassion, excellence and innovation.