Testing for Baby's Allergies
Physicians used to believe that children younger than 2 years old couldn't have environmental allergies because they hadn't been exposed long enough to the triggers. But that isn't the prevailing wisdom anymore. "I've seen babies as young as 6 months with allergies to mold, dust mites, pollen, and animal dander," says Gurjit K. Khurana Hershey, MD, associate professor of pediatric allergy and immunology at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.
A crucial part of easing your child's discomfort is figuring out if allergies are behind baby's skin rash and constant sniffling and sneezing. Keep track of your child's symptoms, because this bit of detective work will help the doctor make a diagnosis.
- Look at your family tree. "If a child has one parent with allergies or asthma, the chances are 50 percent that the child will too," says Dr. Hershey. When both parents do, it's about 75 or 80 percent. "If your baby has coldlike symptoms -- watery eyes, a runny nose that he constantly rubs, and frequent sneezing -- for more than two weeks, it's probably allergies," says Dr. Hershey.
- More clues: Babies with allergies sometimes have dark circles under their eyes, called "allergic shiners," and they are more prone to ear infections.
- Environmental and food allergies can be tested in a baby as young as 6 months. The only way to know for sure that he has any of these allergies is with a skin-prick test or RAST test. (Your doctor will recommend the method that best suits your child.) For a skin test, an allergist will apply tiny amounts of common allergens -- from eggs and peanuts to dust mites and grass -- to your baby's forearm or back and watch for a reaction, such as a raised bump or hive. You'll get results within 20 minutes. For a RAST test, a small amount of blood is drawn and over 100 allergens can be screened. It can take anywhere from three to seven days to receive results.