In this article you will find a description of the common allergies and allergy symptoms, as well as some great practical tips for parents to prevent and manage common allergies within the family.
Common allergic conditions vary greatly:
- First, in how they present in children
- Secondly, how we, as parents, can minimise our child’s reaction and potential suffering.
Allergies can range from a mild reaction to being truly life threatening. Despite the growing problem there is much parents can do to help.
Finally there are links to some useful websites, which may be able to offer help to your child and the whole family.
Common allergy symptoms:
- Hives – also known as urticaria. This is an allergic skin conditions with raised, itchy red blotches with white centres caused by the release of histamine in the body. Some newborn babies develop them – if your baby develops hives with facial swelling, immediately call your doctor or an ambulance as breathing difficulties may follow.
- Hay fever – usually occurs in the spring and summer and is triggered by pollen. The condition tends to run in families and causes the mucous membranes to become inflamed causing red, watery eyes, sneezing and runny nose. It is more unusual in children aged under 5.
- Allergic Rhinitis – this is like a year-round hay fever, but it is caused by dust mites, bird feathers or pet hair. Allergic rhinitis is normally confirmed by skin tests done by a doctor or allergy specialist.
- Flea bites / bee stings – some children who are bitten by a flea will come out in a rash of spots that can take 1 – 2 weeks to disappear.
- Bee / wasp stings can result in a range of allergic responses – some children might get mildly red or puffy at the sting site; others can develop a life-threatening reaction.
- Asthma is an allergic condition that usually presents in children as a cough (particularly at night time), wheezing and shortness of breath. For more information, see this article on ‘Asthma’
- Eczema – an itchy rash that appears on cheeks, inside of elbows and knees and elsewhere in the body. Children can scratch the rash until it bleeds and it may cause difficulty in sleeping. Eczema can be caused by dust mites, materials such as wool, emotional stress and plants in the garden. For further information, see this article on ‘Eczema’
- Drug allergies – reactions to antibiotics and especially the penicillins are the most common. If your child has ever had a reaction to antibiotics or other drugs, then your doctor and any hospital staff must always be made aware of this.
- Foods – a food allergy is different from a food intolerance, though food intolerances are far more common. Common food intolerances are lactose (intolerance to milk), gluten (intolerance to wheat), and monosodium glutamate or MSG (intolerance to this flavouring used in Chinese cooking). One of the extreme food allergies is to peanuts – people with this allergy must avoid any traces of peanuts in all foods. The seven food allergy types are soy and other beans, nuts and peanuts, milk and dairy products, fish, shellfish, wheat, and eggs. For more information, see this article on ‘Food Allergies’.
Prevention tips for 6 common allergy types
Much of the advice will depend upon the type of allergy that your child suffers from, therefore we have divided this section of practical tips into the different categories of allergies.
For dust mite allergies:
- Minimise your baby’s exposure to pets
- Choose low allergy floorings and furnishings
- Keep bedrooms well ventilated
- Vacuum frequently using a vacuum with an air filter
- Use dust mite coverings on beds
- Avoid using heavy curtains
For pollen allergies:
- Keep windows closed when you travel by car
- Avoid being around freshly mown lawns
- Do not rake leaves
- Plant low allergen plants
- Wear sunglasses outdoors to protect eyes
- Avoid high pollen areas such as orchards and farms
- Stay indoors on high pollen count days
- Treat colds promptly
For animal allergies:
- If your household has pets they must be regularly washed, treated for fleas and have their sleeping and living areas kept as clean and hygienic as possible
- Keep animals outside or at least outside of bedrooms, off beds and off furniture
- If your child is stung by a wasp or bee do not pull the sting out as this may release the venom – remove the sting by scraping it sideways with a fingernail or blunt knife
For food allergies:
- Breastfeeding helps develop a stronger immune system and is protective against developing some allergies – this is especially important in the first six months
- If a child is found to be allergic to some foods, the breastfeeding mother may also find it beneficial to avoid these foods
- Introduce new solid foods progressively, starting from age six months
- Do not delay the introduction of foods more likely to cause an allergic reaction (eg. eggs, fish, dairy products) – there is no evidence that doing so will reduce the child’s risk of allergy
- Realise that having any family member who suffers from allergies may mean your baby is at greater risk of developing allergies. If you have strong concerns about introducing a food to your baby, consult with your GP before doing so
- Introduce each new food in very small quantities, one at a time (every one to two weeks), to see how they are tolerated.
- Health experts also suggest avoiding giving young children salt, tea, coffee, or sugar
- If your child has a food allergy, then teach them early to never accept food from other people
- Children allergic to peanuts may also be allergic to almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews, sunflower and sesame seeds
- Fully inform any babysitters, friends parents or school teachers if your child has an allergy – especially if it is serious.
- Avoid strong soaps and perfumes
- Remove allergy causing plants from the garden
- Choose natural fabrics for clothes and bed linen, like cotton
- Regularly wash bedding and clothing with low allergy laundry detergent
For mould allergies:
- Clean up damp areas in the house
- Ensure bathrooms and bedrooms are well ventilated
- Clean the house regularly
- Do maintenance on outdoor areas with poor drainage
Parents with children who suffer from allergies can face a lot of additional stress:
- concern for the child’s well being and normal development,
- the extra work involved in providing a safe environment for your child,
- as increased chance of having to deal with illnesses and broken sleep!
Some families may benefit through help from an organisation, such as Allergy New Zealand, that offers support, information and education for families affected by allergies (see website below).
More useful resources
ASCIA is the peak professional body of clinical immunology and allergy in Australia and New Zealand.