Childhood allergies can be upsetting and confusing. Their cause is not always obvious, and they don’t always respond to the most common treatments. But most can be managed in ways which help to make life easier for the child and parents.
Allergies are very common—they’re thought to affect more than one in four people—and are caused by a reaction of the immune system to a substance it wrongly regards as harmful. Common ‘triggers’ are pollen, dust mites, animal dander, foods such as nuts, fruits and shellfish, mould, insect bites and some household chemicals
Most allergic reactions are mild, such as sneezing or a runny nose, but occasionally a severe reaction called anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock can occur. This is a medical emergency and needs urgent treatment.
The most effective method of allergy management is to avoid the allergen that causes the reaction. A visit to an allergy clnic will help establish this ‘trigger’ substance.
Food allergies, which can lead to serious anaphylactic responses, require you to check the list of ingredients whenever possible. Medications available to help control symptoms of allergic reactions include antihistamines, and lotions and creams such as emollients to reduce itchiness. For some people with very severe allergies, immunotherapy may be recommended.
Asthma, a common lung condition which causes occasional breathing difficulties, can affect people of all ages but often starts in childhood.It too can be triggered by allergy – in fact allergic asthma is the most common type of asthma.
Asthma responses can be triggered by allergens, and also by cold air, smoke, dust, fumes or even a strong smell.
A flare-up of these symptoms, often known as an asthma attack, can be distressing, but proper management of the condition can reduce its effects and make it easier to live with. Some children will find their symptoms improve or even disappear as they grow up.
Two types of inhaler are commonly prescribed for asthma suffers—a preventer and a reliever. Regular use of the preventer will reduce the need for the reliever, keeping down the overall use of medicine.
It’s important that the condition is managed in childhood to prevent long-term damage to the lungs from attacks, though of course severe conditions can still require specialist treatment.
If you understand your child’s asthma, what triggers it, how to spot symptoms and what to do about them, you’re less likely to need to go to hospital with an asthma attack. A written asthma action plan an regular asthma reviews will help manage the condition.
You’ll find lots of help on managing asthma, particularly in the school environment, at asthma.org.uk .
This feature was originally published in the summer edition of Healthy Child with Dr Ranj Singh, which you can also read here!