Allergies in Babies and Toddlers: Children with asthma can have flares (called asthma attacks) triggered by allergies, and viral infections, such as the common cold. Some children are sensitive to cold air and exercise. You’ll get to know your child’s triggers.
Fortunately, most babies do not develop asthma from having allergies but it can happen in toddlers and preschoolers who are allergic to a substance.
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What Is An Allergy?
Allergies represent a hyperactivity of the immune system to an allergen, which is usually an innocuous substance in most other people. When your baby has an allergy, the immune system sees the allergen as a foreign invader and overreacts to the invader in ways that can be just uncomfortable or can be life-threatening, depending on the individual’s response.
When your baby or toddler has an allergy, their immune system creates IgE antibodies (also known as immunoglobulin E).
This is a protein that triggers other cells of the immune system (mainly basophils and mast cells) to release allergy-producing substances that are intended to defend the body against the allergen but that cause symptoms we know as allergies in babies.
The release of chemicals, such as histamine, result in an allergic reaction, affecting the child’s nose, throat, eyes, skin, GI tract, and lungs.
The areas affected depend on the type of allergen you are exposed to as some allergens are airborne while others are contact allergens or are eaten.
Once the IgE antibody is made, the immune system remembers the foreign invader and an allergic reaction will develop every time the allergen comes in contact with the body.
While allergies and asthma are not the same, they often go together. Those who have allergies tend also to develop symptoms of asthma, especially when exposed to an allergen (although there are other triggers to asthma).
Infant and Toddler Allergies
Because the ability to have an allergy is often genetic, you can get allergies from childhood as part of your genetic makeup.
The passage on of the genes for allergies is multifactorial, meaning that some kids will develop allergies from their parents and others will not.
You can’t inherit the ability to have an allergic response to a specific allergy.
Rather it is the likelihood of developing allergies that is inherited.
Some children have idiopathic allergies, which means that the child did not have a parent with a history of allergies. If the child is allergic to a given substance, there is a likelihood of becoming allergic to other allergens.
What Causes Food Allergies?
About 8 percent of children in the US suffer from food allergies.
The main offenders are as follows:
Egg allergies can be challenging for every parent as it is a common allergy in babies and younger children.
Eggs are contained in many different types of foods, such as baked items, and are often a hidden ingredient. Fortunately, allergies to eggs are often outgrown as the child grows up.
Tree nuts and Peanuts.
Allergies to peanuts are common among children and its incidence is increasing. Peanuts are not actually nuts but are instead a type of legume.
Other legumes include lentils and peas; however, most children who have allergies to peanuts don’t have similar allergies to lentils and peas.
Another typical allergy in kids is tree nut allergies. These include cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, and pecans—all nuts that can be harvested from trees.
Peanut allergies and nut allergies are usually permanent and cannot be outgrown.
Wheat can be found in many different types of foods.
Allergies to wheat are often mistaken for celiac disease but they are not the same. Celiac disease comes from a gastrointestinal sensitivity to gluten, a protein found in barley, rye, and wheat.
Celiac disease can result in illness and injury to the small intestines. Wheat allergies, on the other hand, can result in illness similar to other types of food allergies and can result in a life-threatening allergic reaction.
Cow’s milk causes about 2-3 percent of allergies in babies.
It means they cannot drink regular milk and cannot drink formulas based on cow’s milk.
Most of the baby formulas you’ll find at the grocery store are based on cow’s milk proteins. It also means that the child will be allergic to any type of cheese (unless it comes from another animal), cottage cheese, milk-based yogurt and other types of dairy products.
Milk can also be found in many recipes so you need to read product labels to see if milk proteins are a part of the disease. Fortunately a baby milk allergy are often outgrown as the child grows.
Shellfish or Fish.
Allergies to shellfish and fish are especially common among adults. They are generally not outgrown over time.
Because shellfish and fish do not all come from the same family of food, you can have an allergy to one type of fish or shellfish and not to another.
Soybeans are similar to peanuts as they are both types of legumes.
Allergies to soy are more common allergies in babies and less common among children who are older.
Unfortunately, babies who are allergic to milk-based formulas are also intolerant to soy-based formulas. Soy proteins can be hidden in foods you buy at the store so you need to read the package ingredients before giving the product to your child.
What Are The Signs and Symptoms Of An Allergy?
The type of reaction your child gets depends on the allergy they have and on the child.
Allergies can result in sneezing, itchy nose, itchy eyes, nasal congestion, difficulty breathing, throat tightness, vomiting, or faintness.
If your child suffers from a serious reaction to an allergen, such as anaphylaxis, there are things you need to do in order to treat this kind of reaction as it can be life-threatening.
Airborne allergies usually affect the nose and breathing passages.
They are also called allergic rhinitis and is prevalent in about 4-10 percent of people living in the US. Allergic rhinitis usually begins by about ten years of age and peaks in intensity during a person’s teenage years or when they are a young adult.
These types of allergies tend to resolve by the time a person reaches 40-60 years of age.
Common Symptoms of Airborne Allergens include the following:
- Nasal congestion
- Itchy throat
- Itchy nose
The above symptoms are often associated with allergic conjunctivitis, which causes red, itchy, and watery eyes.
Some people develop dark circles near the eyes as a result of the allergy; this is known as having an “allergic shiner”.
If your child is asthmatic, allergens from the air can result in shortness of breath and wheezing.
If your child has any other type of allergy besides airborne allergies, the symptoms can be different.
Pay attention to these symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing
- Tightness in the throat
- Hoarse voice
- Abdominal pain
- Allergic reactions of the eyes
- Bodily sweating
- Hypotension, leading to loss of consciousness and lightheadedness
Every allergic reaction is different.
The symptom you have during one allergy attack may be different the next time you are exposed to the allergen.
Some reactions or simple, such as having a case of the hives. In other situations, several body systems can be affected. Just because you had a mild reaction in one case, it doesn’t mean the next time you won’t have a serious reaction.
Child Feeding Expert Kristen Yarker, MSc, Dietitian, clarifies the current scientific evidence regarding prevention of food allergies and advises what foods to provide. Get more healthy baby nutrition tips and recipes at http://www.kristenyarker.com:
Symptoms of Milk Allergies in Babies
Baby milk allergy symptoms and allergies to milk-based formulas are very common in kids. The allergy is usually to cow’s milk but babies can develop an allergy to any type of mammalian milk, including buffalo milk, goat’s milk and sheep’s milk.
Generally the reaction begins to develop within a few minutes to a couple of hours after drinking a milk product. The main symptoms include vomiting, hives, diarrhea, and wheezing.
Milk allergies in babies also have the chance of causing anaphylaxis, which is very life-threatening.
The only way to treat a milk allergy in your baby is to avoid drinking milk. Many babies will outgrow their allergy to milk but some do not and must avoid milk for the rest of their lives.
What is Anaphylaxis?
Anaphylaxis is the most severe type of allergic reaction you can have.
You can get this type of reaction from just about anything—medications, foods, airborne allergens, or insect bites.
During an anaphylactic reaction, the child may suddenly feel short of breath and may feel as though their throat is closing off.
There may be lightheadedness or faintness during an anaphylactic reaction. Anaphylaxis can be treated when the right treatment is used.
Fortunately, anaphylaxis is a rare condition.
It is still important to understand, however, because a mild reaction can become worse quite quickly, resulting in swelling of the throat, fainting, dizziness, and shortness of breath. It is life-threatening to both adults and children if not treated promptly.
If your child has been found to have an anaphylactic reaction to an allergen, he or she will be taught how to use an injectable device containing epinephrine.
Injected epinephrine acts very quickly to reduce anaphylactic symptoms by raising the blood pressure and by decreasing swelling.
Even if the injected epinephrine was successful, you still need to call for the paramedics as the epinephrine can wear off, leaving you just as sick as you were before you gave your child the injection.
Anaphylactic reactions can occur immediately after exposure to the allergen or it can happen a couple of hours later if the reaction is from ingesting a food allergen.
Do Allergies Cause Asthma?
As mentioned, allergies do not cause asthma in many situations.
On the other hand, about 10 million individuals in the US are suffering from what is known as allergic asthma.
How We Breath:
In a normal person, air passes in and out of the nose, mouth, trachea (windpipe), and the bronchi.
The bronchi grow exponentially smaller until they end in the alveoli, which are small air sacs that exchange oxygen for carbon dioxide in the lungs.
The airways are normally relaxed so that air can pass through them without difficulty.
How We Breath During An Asthma Attack:
During an asthma attack, there are some things that happen to the airways that block the flow of air, leading to asthmatic symptoms.
These include the following:
The bronchial lining becomes inflamed upon exposure to the allergen so that the airway narrows.
The muscles surrounding the trachea and bronchial tree tighten. (This is known as bronchospasm; it can be reversed by medications that open up the bronchial tree.)
Mucus is produced by the trachea and bronchial tree cells.
The mucus is thick and is difficult to cough up.
These things result in a narrowing of the passage air is supposed to go through.
The child with asthma becomes short of breath and emits wheezing sounds when he or she breathes.
Coughing is another prominent feature of asthma in kids as the mucus in the airways triggers the cough reflex.
Treating Asthma in Kids
The major treatment of asthma in kids is to remove your child from those things that trigger the symptoms.
There are also medications to take that can both prevent asthma attacks and stop an asthma attack as it is happening.
Bronchodilators, such as albuterol, are able to stop an asthma attack from occurring.
It works by relaxing the muscles around the airways so that air can flow through better. It can relieve some of the symptoms of asthma after just a few minutes. These types of medications free up the mucus in the lungs so that it can be more easily coughed up.
Other bronchodilators besides albuterol (which is a beta 2 agonist) there are anticholinergic medications and theophylline, which generally doesn’t work immediately.
Medications to Prevent Asthma
Some asthma drugs taken to prevent an asthma attack include corticosteroids, which are inhaled through a metered dose inhaler.
These include medications such as these:
They are medications that decrease mucus production in the bronchial tree and lessen the amount of swelling.
This prevents asthma by making the bronchial tree less likely to have a reaction when exposed to a trigger.
They are taken on a regular basis, even when you don’t have symptoms and kick in after several weeks of use.
The number of asthma attacks decreases and there is less sensitivity of the bronchial tree to allergens or other triggers.
Cromolyn sodium is another type of anti-inflammatory medication.
It stabilizes the mast cells of the immune system so that the chemicals released during an asthma attack are not able to be released. One drug that is used for children with asthma and those who have asthma secondary to heavy exercise is called Intal.
Other medications used to treat asthma include leukotriene modifiers.
These include Singulair, Accolate, and Zyflo.
Leukotrienes are immune system chemicals that normally increase mucus production and tighten the muscles of the bronchial tree.
When your child takes a leukotriene modifier, the leukotrienes are not released and asthma symptoms improve.
Some side effects include nausea and headache.
They can interact negatively with theophylline so your doctor needs to know if you are on these medications together.
Xolair is a monoclonal antibody medication that blocks the release of IgE. This means that it is a preventative against allergic asthma.
Because it is an injectable medication, it is not often used for children unless other treatments do not work. In order to take Xolair, the child must have a known elevation of the IgE level and have a diagnosis of allergic asthma.
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Allergies and asthma in children are common enough that parents need to be alert for symptoms of these diseases, beginning when your child is an infant.
Infants can have allergies to food products; these things must be avoided until the child outgrows the allergy or for the rest of their life, depending on the child and his or her allergic response.
- Mayo Clinic Health Book, Fourth Edition, Mayo Clinic Press.
- American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI): “An Unwelcome Return: 10 Tips to Ease Your Spring Allergy Symptoms.”
- http://acaai.org/allergies/who-has-allergies/children-allergies. Accessed December 29, 2015.
This post was written by Christine Traxler, Family Physician: specializing in medical, health and wellness.