IS IT AN allergy?
When it comes to your child’s permanently runny nose or skin rash, an allergic reaction may be the culprit
Since the 1960s there has been an explosion of allergic diseases, and there are many theories about why this is happening. But while the experts look into that, it helps to know what allergies look like and how they work.
HOW DO ALLERGIES WORK?
The immune system is designed to recognise and fight foreign invaders, whether this is a virus, bacteria or even a splinter in your child’s foot. Unfortunately in more and more children and adults, the immune system recognises the foreign proteins that make up peanuts, dust mites, dog dander, dairy and other substances as dangerous. This causes an inflammatory reaction that can result in hives, a runny itchy nose or an acute asthma attack with inflamed narrowed airways. There are also other parts of the immune system that are triggered by these common allergens or even some chemicals, drugs, preservatives and colourants.
KEEP A LOOKOUT
Luckily, allergies have specific symptoms that help us diagnose them for what they are. This is critical to ensure early intervention and also so that you know which triggers to avoid:
Kids with allergies often have problems with LOW ENERGY LEVELS, related to high circulating histamine levels and consequent poor sleep quality.
A PERSISTENT OR OFTEN RECURRENT CLEAR RUNNY NOSE and snoring suggest chronic nasal inflammation. Snoring is never normal in children, so always get it checked out.
RUBBING OF THE EYES OR
NOSE is another sign. So too is a wrinkle or line across the nose – the classic allergic crease – caused by rubbing the nose constantly in an upwards direction (the allergic salute).
ALLERGIC SHINERS appear as dark rings under the eyes.
SNORING OR PERSISTENT
MOUTH BREATHING, which in the long term can affect a child’s facial or dental structure.
ENLARGED, OFTEN INFECTED
TONSILS ASSOCIATED with mouth breathing and a postnasal drip.
COUGHING, particularly if it’s persistent or nocturnal and sometimes associated with vomiting in younger kids, and when it has been induced by exercise or activity.
INFLAMED, DRY AND ITCHY SKIN most notably in the creases behind the knees, ankles and elbows.
Any reaction to foodstuffs or contact substances (like grass). This could be anything from VOMITING, TO SWELLING OF THE LIPS, A WHEEZE OR A COUGH.
If your child has any of these symptoms, it may be worth seeing your doctor to find the cause. There are many unproven methods claiming to detect underlying allergies, so it is important to understand that there are really only three proven methods of showing underlying allergies that are done by a healthcare professional: a skin prick test, blood tests and skin patch testing.
THE COMMON ALLERGIC DISEASES
If your child has an allergy, he’ll probably exhibit it in one of the following ways:
Also known as allergic dermatitis, this common skin condition can affect small areas all over the body, but interestingly never affects the nose. It appears as an inflamed, red, dry and scaly rash. It’s most often caused by a set of triggers and is best treated by using moisturisers and topical anti-inflammatories if needed.
Probably the most common and most persistent of the allergic diseases, hayfever (or allergic rhinitis) is often seasonal, particularly in coastal areas, where grass and other pollens as well as wind play a big role in the severity of the disease. The classic symptoms include an itchy nose combined with a persistent clear snot, as well as sniffing and snoring at night. With hayfever you may also notice dark rings under your child’s eyes and you may see your child breathing with an open mouth and his lower jaw protruding. Consult your doctor for advice on treatment.
This accompanies hayfever and is typified by red, itchy eyes that have a clear watery discharge, and is seldom painful. In this case nasal steroids help the optic symptoms, but longacting antihistamine eye drops are the basis of therapy, and steroids should always only be given by an ophthalmologist.
In the past, the thought of asthma conjured up images of children on oxygen tents spending weeks in hospital. But with today’s modern devices, excellent medicine and a better understanding of asthma – that it is an inflammatory disease requiring regular air and antiinflammatory therapy – means it is seen, and consequently treated as, just another common allergic disease by a doctor.
This rash, which is commonly referred to as hives, comes up rapidly in the skin following exposure to, or contact with, an allergen or trigger. The rash is described as weals of raised red, classically itchy lesions that can appear and disappear very rapidly. It can precede a more serious anaphylactic reaction, but is generally a standalone rash that responds
to antihistamines given orally.
FOOD PROTEIN INDUCED ENTEROCOLITIS SYNDROME (ALSO KNOWN AS FPIES)
This is a widely variable syndrome that can affect any portion of the gastrointestinal tract. Some children will experience a tingling sensation in the mouth and spit out or vomit the offending foodstuff, while others can tolerate the food in the upper gut but develop severe discomfort and even bloody diarrhoea from an inflamed colon.
This is the severe form of allergic reaction that is life threatening, but is fortunately rare in children. It can be difficult to predict, even in diagnosed allergic children who have been tested for
allergens. If your child has had a previous anaphylactic reaction, or even if there is a concern that anaphylaxis may occur, you should have an action plan in place that includes keeping an Epipen handy in various places – the car, your home, etc. Always let your child’s caretakers know about his allergy and how to use the Epipen if necessary, leave your contact details with them and make sure your child carries some form of medical information that identifies his allergy (a Medic Alert bracelet, for instance). YB