What is an allergic reaction?
An allergic reaction occurs when the immune system overreacts to a harmless substance known as an allergen. The immune system is designed to protect the body from infections, viruses and diseases. For about 40 percent of kids, substances like pollen, foods, latex, mold, pet dander, dust mites or insect stings are allergens that trigger the body to produce antibodies. The antibodies (proteins) then head to cells that release chemicals, causing symptoms – usually in the nose, lungs, throat, sinuses, ears, stomach or on the skin. The proteins tell the cells to stop the substance (allergens). Then the cells release histamine, causing blood vessels to expand and additional chemicals to be released. This triggers the allergy symptoms.
Allergens can contact the body is several ways: going through the skin, eyes, nose, mouth or stomach. This is what causes the symptoms.
- Clogged sinuses
- Inflamed skin
- Difficulty breathing
- Stomach problems
- Itchy eyes
An allergy attack can be anywhere from mild and bothersome all the way to life-threatening in severe cases (this will depend on how the body reacts and the amount of allergen that has infiltrated the system).
Types of allergies
Here are the main types of allergies.
Hay fever: This is also known as allergic rhinitis. Symptoms include sneezing; runny and or stuffy nose; itchy eyes, nose or roof of mouth; red, swollen and or watery eyes (allergic conjunctivitis).
Food allergies: Symptoms may include tingling in the mouth and hives. The tongue, lips, throat or face could swell up. Extreme cases can cause anaphylaxis and will require immediate medical help.
Eczema: This is also known as atopic dermatitis, which is a skin condition. Most varieties of eczema are not allergies, but the condition does flare up when the skin is around things that will cause an allergic reaction. Symptoms include hives, itching, swelling, sneezing and runny nose – in addition to red and peeling or flaking skin.
Medication: An allergy to a certain medicine can cause a rash, swelling, hives, wheezing or even anaphylaxis.
Stings: A sting or bite from an insect may cause a large area of swelling around the site of the sting, known as edema, itching and or hives, shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness or a cough. A severe case can also lead to anaphylaxis.
Extreme allergic reactions can lead to anaphylaxis. This can send the body into shock. It is usually caused by food, medication, bites or latex. There is risk of a second episode for up to 12 hours after the first incident. Symptoms can appear suddenly and go from a small rash or runny nose to big problems like difficulty breathing, tightness in the throat, hives or swelling, nausea or vomiting and fainting or dizziness. For some people, it can cause a rapid pulse or cause the heart to stop beating. A doctor can prescribe medicine to keep with you if there is a history or risk of this happening. This should always be kept somewhere with quick and easy access in case of an emergency. You should go to the hospital even after using the medication to be sure there are no delayed reactions.
Mild allergic reactions are easy to find treatment options for. Antihistamines, decongestants and nasal sprays can do the trick. A doctor may prescribe an inhaler for some situations. Or they could inject a special antibody to help manage the symptoms. If that isn’t working, another option is to get allergy shots or using tablets that dissolve under the tongue.
If you know what your child is allergic to, there are steps you can take to help them avoid suffering through the symptoms. Here’s a list of 15 suggestions to help you do this:
- Stay inside: This is the best way to avoid allergens in the first place.
- Use saltwater: For an older child, you can try nasal irrigation with a saline solution.
- Stay hydrated: Sneezing and blowing their nose can make it hard to stay hydrated – get the child to drink a lot.
- Get warmed up: A hot shower or bath will produce enough steam that may offer some symptom relief.
- Stay cool: When the weather is warm, use the air conditioning in your car and home and keep your windows closed.
- Eliminate dry air: It is easier to breathe with a little moisture in the air so you might consider using a humidifier.
- Cold compress: Using a cold compress can help relieve itchy eyes and soreness.
- Hands to themselves: Try and help the child avoid rubbing itchy eyes. Rubbing just makes things worse in the long run.
- Spice things up: A lot of kids won’t eat it, but a meal made with spicy foods can help clear nasal passages.
- Soft tissues: If there is a lot of nose blowing and wiping going on, use tissues that have lotion or aloe.
- Petroleum jelly: This can soothe the skin if their nose is raw and red from blowing.
- Gargle: Gargle with warm salt water can help ease the pain of a sore throat.
- Warm tea: Fluids will help a sore throat. Try a weak team with honey and lemon.
- A warm face: Put a warm compress over their face to help with a child’s sinus pressure and pain.
- Avoid certain foods: An allergy to ragweed can also mean a child has allergies to foods like bananas, melons, and cucumbers.
When to see the doctor
Many times a child’s allergies can be taken care of at home. But sometimes it gets to the point where a doctor should be involved. When the discomfort seems unbearable for your child, bring them down to see us. Here are some suggestions for when it is a good time to see a physician:
- Hay fever symptoms last longer than a week or two – or if the symptoms appear at the same time every year.
- Symptoms of asthma, especially when they get worse after exercise or at night.
- Symptoms of eczema – this would include an itchy red rash (usually starts in babies), scratching a lot and thick scaly patches on the skin.
- Symptoms appear after a child eats a certain food
- Allergies prevent your child from playing or being able to sleep
You should call 911 or go to the emergency room if a child has symptoms that are sudden, severe or include difficulty breathing, swelling, passing out, dizziness or chest pain.