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The Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments of Allergies and Asthma

Unfortunately, little ones aren't immune from the sometimes troubling side effects of allergies. They too get sniffles, itchy eyes, and nasty coughs. Here are some of the latest statistics regarding this often annoying health condition:

  • Hay fever (allergic rhinitis) is a seasonal condition that affects more than 60 million Americans. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) reports that allergy-related diseases affect as much as 40 percent of children in the U.S.
  • Nearly 10 percent of children in the U.S. suffer from asthma. According to the AAAAI, children between the ages off 5 and 17 miss around12.8 million school days each year. Asthma accounts for around 2217,000 emergency room visits and 10.5 million office visits annually.
  • Childhood asthma differs from adult asthma in that infants and small children may not show the usual symptoms. Kids often exhibit symptoms such as rapid respiration, noisy breathing, chest retractions, and chest congestion. Physicians who aren't specialists may treat these symptoms as an infection, not realizing that the underlying cause is asthma. Correct diagnosis and management of childhood asthma may require an asthma and allergy specialist who recognizes the uniqueness of childhood asthma.

The world is unfortunately full of dozens of types of allergens -- substances that trigger allergic reactions in the body. These include:

Pollen: This fine, reproductive "powder" from vegetation, which travels easily on a light breeze, is a common allergy trigger. The pollen that usually results in allergy symptoms comes from different trees, grasses, and weeds. In early spring, tree pollen (oak, elm, birch, hickory, polar, maple, and walnut trees) accounts for most of the pollen activity. Pollen from timothy, Bermuda grass, orchard grass, and blue trees strikes in late spring and early summer. Ragweed, sagebrush, tumbleweed, and cockleweed pollen can irritate your child from late summer to early fall.

Generally, the pollen season lasts from February or March through October. But weather conditions can cause variations by region. Pollen counts are usually lower on rainy, wet days and higher on hot, dry, and windy days when the spores can travel more easily through the air.

Mold spores: These are another pesky problem for children with allergies. They're found almost everywhere -- in soil, vegetation, attics, basements, carpets, refrigerators, and more. Mold spores also travel by air and start appearing after the spring thaw. They're present almost year-round, but are especially prevalent in July in warm areas and in October in the cooler states.

Dust mites: These tiny creatures that live in bed linens and your sofa are another big cause of allergies in children.

Pet dander: Many kids also suffer from allergic reactions to the dry skin that flakes off the family cat or dog.

Food: Foods such as peanuts, eggs, and wheat are common allergy triggers.

Be sure to consult your pediatrician if you suspect your child is suffering from allergies. Once your doctor has confirmed that your child is allergic to certain substances, try taking these steps to minimize allergen exposure:

  • Use protective covers on bedding to aggressively control dust mites.
  • Limit stuffed animals in your child's room.
  • Vacuum and dust your home often.
  • Limit exposure to indoor pets early in your child's life.
  • Delay exposure to potentially allergenic foods, such as peanuts and wheat.
  • Delay solid foods until 6 months of age, then follow a suggested regimen for introducing new foods.
  • Reduce and eliminate maternal smoking during and after pregnancy.
  • Avoid day care for very young children.
  • Keep windows closed at night to keep pollens or molds out. If you can, use air conditioning, which also helps to clean and dry the air.
  • Limit early morning activity -- between 5:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. -- when pollen counts are highest.
  • Keep car windows closed when traveling.
  • Keep your child indoors as much as possible when the pollen count, wind, or humidity is high.
  • Use pollen season as the perfect excuse for a beach or seaside vacation, where pollen isn't as prevalent.
  • Don't dry clothes or sheets on an outdoor clothesline -- pollen and molds can collect on linens.

If symptoms persist or worsen, it may be time to consider taking your child to see a specialist. According to the AAAAI, you and your child should plan on seeing an allergist/immunologist if:

  • Your child has asthma and you see their symptoms become worse after a new pet has been introduced into the home.
  • Your child establishes a history of seasonal or persistent asthma.
  • You and your child need to confirm the diagnosis of asthma.
  • You and your child need more education on asthma and guidance for self-management techniques.
  • You feel your child may benefit from daily asthma reliever medications.

With a little preparation, medical care, and caution, you can help manage your child's allergy symptoms.

Source: The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Allergic

Reviewed 2/02 by Jane Forester, MD

Updated March 2010

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.