Child allergies are an extremely common occurrence. In Canada, 1 in 2 households have reported being impacted by allergies and 2 in 100 children under 18 have been diagnosed with peanut allergies. This post breaks down all information that parents, children, and teachers need to know about child allergies and what can be done about them.
What are Allergies?
Allergies are the result of abnormal reactions of our body to harmless substances. Usually, the body’s immune system works to fight off dangerous pathogens and prevent the onset of disease. However, in a person with allergies, our immune systems accidentally mistake harmless substances for dangerous invaders. These reactions, which cause the release of substances such as histamines, can result in a wide variety of symptoms including itchiness, sneezing, and hives. Common childhood allergens include foods, medications, environmental factors, and insect stings.
What are the Symptoms of Allergies?
The symptoms of allergies can vary greatly depending on the substance a child is allergic to. The severity of these reactions can also vary depending on the person, with the most severe allergies causing anaphylaxis. In general, those having an allergic reaction may experience:
- Itchiness, tingling, rashes, and hives
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Tingling of the mouth
- Wheezing and difficulty breathing
- Swelling of the face, lips, tongue, and throat
- Lower levels of consciousness
What Causes Childhood Allergies?
Anything can produce an allergic reaction, however, some substances are more common allergens than others. The most common causes of allergies are:
- Food Allergens: Peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, sesame, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish, and dairy
- Medications: Some antibiotics and over the counter medicine such as penicillin
- Environmental Factors: Pollen, mold, animal fur, and dust
- Insect Stings: Bees and or wasps
How can you tell if Your Child has Allergies?
If you suspect that your child has allergies contact your family doctor or pediatrician and request a referral to see an allergy specialist/allergist. The allergist will be able to conduct an appropriate assessment to screen for allergies. The most common test used by allergists are:
Skin Prick Test
The skin prick test is one of the most common tests used to diagnose allergies. The allergist will lightly prick the child’s skin and place a drop of common or specific allergens. Along with this, they will prick two other areas of skin and add a drop of saline or histamine to act as a negative and positive control respectively. After about 15-20 minutes the skin is examined to see if there is any redness or swelling. Based on the comparison of the positive and negative controls, an allergy diagnosis can be made.
In this test, a blood sample is taken and then mixed with a specific allergen. The amount of antibodies that react to a specific allergen is then measured. This measurement can be used to determine whether or not a child is allergic to specific allergens.
Oral Food Challenge
The oral food challenge is one of the least used tests for allergens. Small quantities of the allergen are fed to the child over specific time intervals. Based on whether a reaction has occurred or not the child can be diagnosed or undiagnosed with a food allergy. This test can be dangerous if not undertaken by a trained professional and should only be done in a medical setting under the supervision of an allergist.
How can you help a Child with Allergies?
There is currently no known cure for food allergies. However, there are ways that one can help children manage the symptoms of allergies. This includes:
Teaching Avoidance of Allergens
Caretakers and teachers play an important role in helping children develop the knowledge and skills to deal with allergies. Children should learn from a young age to read food labels accurately and consistently. They should also be taught to wash their hands before and after eating and not share foods and drinks with others. Parents are encouraged to teach children to always ask waiters and cooking staff about the presence of allergens in food and react accordingly. By learning the importance of allergens from a young age we can minimize the risk it poses to a child’s health.
Taking Over the Counter Medications
Some over-the-counter medications exist to minimize the negative effects of mild allergic reactions. Medications such as antihistamines are often available without a prescription.
Partaking in Immunotherapies
Immunotherapy is a treatment strategy that exposes children to a small amount of an allergen. Its purpose is to trigger an immune response without causing a full allergic reaction. By repeating this exposure over several years your immune system can adapt and become desensitized to the allergen. This will produce a milder reaction with each subsequent exposure. This treatment is usually only helpful for less severe allergens, such as dust, mould, and pollen.
Providing Anaphylaxis Emergency Treatment
Anaphylaxis is a severe and often deadly allergic reaction. These reactions are often sudden and rapid and can lead to death if not cared for immediately. Children who are at high risk of anaphylaxis may wear bracelets identifying their medical condition and carry epinephrine autoinjectors. Having an anaphylaxis emergency plan, including a person’s allergies, signs, symptoms, and procedures to be taken in case of emergency is vital. If a child is experiencing anaphylaxis the following steps should be taken:
- If possible, help the child administer their own epinephrine autoinjector (Administer a second dose if symptoms do not improve within 5 minutes)
- Contact emergency medical services (EMS)
- Provide reassurance to the child experiencing the allergic reaction
- Help the child sit in a comfortable position
- Continually assess responsiveness, airway, and breathing until EMS arrival (Begin CPR if necessary)
The MasterStudent team believes in providing free, accurate, objective, and truthful information. This includes providing information that is well-sourced. Our writing team is not comprised of allergists, thus we encourage all readers to always check primary sources to help prevent the spread of misinformation and disinformation. The information regarding child allergies provided in this article was taken from the following sources.
- Lifesaving Society. (2017). Canadian Lifesaving Manual. W. Ross MacDonald School Resource Services Library.
- Reber LL, Hernandez JD, Galli SJ. The pathophysiology of anaphylaxis. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2017Aug;140(2):335–48.
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- Sampson HA. Food allergy. Part 2: diagnosis and management. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 1999Jun 1;103(6):981-9.
- Allergies – Symptoms and causes [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. [cited 2022 Jan 30].
- Craig T, Ledford DK. Allergy and Asthma: The Basics to Best Practices. Mahmoudi M, editor. Springer;2019.
- Sinyor B, Perez LC. Pathophysiology of asthma. StatPearls [Internet]. 2020 Jul 10.
- Toskala E, Kennedy DW. Asthma risk factors. International forum of allergy & rhinology 2015 Sep(Vol. 5, No. S1, pp. S11-S16). Available from: doi: 10.1002/alr.21557
- Asthma- Symptoms and causes [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. [cited 2022 Apr 19].
- McCracken JL, Veeranki SP, Ameredes BT, Calhoun WJ. Diagnosis and management of asthma in adults: A review. Jama. 2017 Jul 18;318(3):279-90.