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Does your child have allergies?

Reviewed By: Reviewed by: Donna Hummell, M.D, associate professor of Pediatrics, Rheumatology, Immunology and Allergy (Last Updated: October 18, 2012)

Children get runny noses, the occasional rash. and sometimes puffy eyes. How do you know if what they have is a cold? Or could it be allergies?

Allergies may begin in the very young, but the inciting trigger may vary depending upon  a child's age. Food allergies are more common in young infants and toddlers.

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology estimates that about 2 million children have food allergies. Some of the most common allergy-causing foods are milk, eggs, fish, peanuts, wheat, and soy.

Symptoms can include hives, red itchy skin, vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and angioedema or swelling. On occasion, in addition to these prominent symptoms, there may be sneezing, stuffy nose, or itchy and teary eyes. The nose and eye symptoms do not usually occur without the prominent symptoms mentioned.

Children often outgrow the food allergen, which is sometimes replaced with an environmental irritant, such as pollen, dust, pets, mold, ragweed, and others.

“Inhalant allergies usually show up around ages 2 and older,” said Donna Hummell, M.D., associate professor of Pediatric, Rheumatology, Immunology and Allergy.

“This consists of runny nose, sneezing, nasal drainage, and itchy nose and eyes, and may improve with an over the counter antihistamine, such as Benadryl, loratadine, or cetirizine. Lack of response to either loratadine or cetirizine is usually fairly reliable evidence that the symptoms are NOT from allergy but instead may be from a cold virus.”

Also, Hummell said, allergy symptoms can last six to eight weeks, whereas a cold typically lasts about two weeks. In addition, if a fever is present, suspect a cold virus infection and not allergy.

Approximately 20 percent of school-age children have outdoor allergies, she noted.

“We think of dust mites and animal danders (cat and dog) as year-round allergens, and then pollens such as tree pollen (spring), grass pollen (late spring and summer), and weed pollens (late summer and fall) as the major allergens,” Hummell said. “Of course, in a different climate, grass and weeds may pollinate year-round.

When in doubt, parents should visit their pediatricians to determine the cause of the child’s symptoms.

For those who suffer from outdoor irritants, Hummell offers the following tips to minimize exposure to allergens.

  • Keep doors and windows closed, and use air-conditioning/heating when possible.
  • Have filters installed in central units.
  • Change intake filters on units once each month.
  • Use a clothes dryer rather than hanging laundry outdoors.
  • Wear a mask when mowing grass or performing outdoor work that stirs up particulates.
  • Take the prescribed medications at least 1 hour before going outdoors and take daily medications (nasal steroid sprays) as prescribed and not as needed.
  • Remember that pets can bring pollens indoors on their fur. Brush them off outside before allowing them to enter the house.
  • Children who have been playing outdoors should change their clothing when they come indoors to stay, to reduce their continued exposure to the outdoor allergens.

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