There are many ways you can help your child deal with allergies, especially if you recognise the early warning signs and prevent them from becoming more serious.
RUNNY nose, itchy skin, watery eyes. Your child is not sick, but he gets these symptoms, and becomes uncomfortable and miserable. No matter what you do, these symptoms keep coming back, and may even be getting worse. You are at your wits’ end, trying to figure out what is wrong with him.
The answer could be an allergy. Allergies are becoming increasingly common among Malaysian children. Sometimes, these allergies are mild and cause only minor discomfort. But often, mild allergies can develop into more serious ones, and become dangerous to a person’s health.
It is thus important that you recognise the early warning signs and implement the necessary preventive measures.
What causes allergies? Blame it on the things called allergens. These are things that your child could be hypersensitive to, for example house dust mites, pollen, animal dander (dead skin flakes) or insects. If your child is allergic to these or other things, like certain foods and medications (e.g. penicillin), he could develop a reaction.
Nobody really knows why some people are sensitive to allergens and others aren’t. Heredity could be part of the reason. If you or your spouse have allergies, your child has an increased risk of developing allergies himself.
Family history is not the only risk factor. Any member of the family who smokes around the child increases his risk of allergies.
Even a pregnant mother who smokes can put her unborn baby at risk of allergies and other conditions.
Some children may be predisposed to allergies and the signs appear as early as infancy. Allergies tend to develop in a certain pattern, which experts call the “Allergy March”. It means that the allergy will affect one part of the body, and move on to another part, as your child grows older.
Some experts believe that the “Allergy March” usually begins with infantile colic. If your baby is suffering from abdominal pains, it could be due to a food allergy. The next sign could be eczema (sometimes known as atopic dermatitis), which appears as skin rashes (see explanation below).
The other allergic reactions usually appear when your child is between seven and 15 years old. He may develop allergic rhinitis (sometimes known as hay fever) and asthma.
The good news is that the “Allergy March” allows you to recognise the signs that appear in infancy, or at least early toddlerhood. You may recognise some of these symptoms in your child, but you don’t know what exactly they are, and what is causing them.
If you suspect that these symptoms are due to an allergic reaction, take your child to the doctor for an examination. The doctor will be able to help you take the necessary steps to prevent any further allergic reactions from developing.
Common allergic reactions affecting the nose and airways
“Nose running like a tap” is usually how parents describe it. In temperate countries, allergic rhinitis is also described as hay fever.
You will find that your child sneezes, has a blocked, runny nose, and watery eyes all the time. This results from an adverse reaction to common allergens, for example pollen, dust mites, animal dander or feathers.
It can be easy to mistake these symptoms for that of a common cold. However, if they last longer than a week, occur repeatedly and are not accompanied by a fever, your child probably has rhinitis.
Asthma affects 10% to 15% of Malaysian children, and can be dangerous if allowed to persist without treatment or prevention. In asthma, the child’s airways become narrowed.
This reduces the airflow and causes breathlessness, coughing and wheezing. Frequent coughing at night and tightness of the chest are important early signs.
Children who have eczema or allergic rhinitis, due to allergic reactions, are quite likely to develop asthma when they are older.
If you do not want your child to be plagued by asthma, keep his environment dust-free! The house dust mite is the biggest trigger of asthma.
It lives in our carpets, curtains, mattresses and soft toys. Dead skin particles from animals are also a common trigger. Cigarette smoke is another allergen that can be easily removed.
For a child who has asthma, the doctor may prescribe quick-relief drugs, which are used to relieve an asthma attack, or preventer drugs, which are used to help prevent asthma attacks. Depending on the severity and frequency of attacks, your doctor will prescribe one or both these medications.
Eczema appears as rashes on the hands, as well as in skin creases in areas such as the wrists, the backs of knees, and the insides of elbows. The child may have red and swollen skin, small, fluid-filled blisters, and develop an intense itch (especially at night). He may also have dry, scaly and cracked skin.
Again, the common allergens could trigger eczema. Quite often, your child could also be reacting to something he ate.
Hives (urticaria) is also an itchy rash that appears as smooth, lumpy areas on the skin that are red or white in colour. It could affect just a part of your child’s skin, or his whole body.
Your child may develop hives as an allergic reaction to a certain food, medication, plant or insect bite.
Swelling (angioedema) is a nasty and severe allergic reaction. Usually, the child’s face, lips, tongue or genitals will swell up. His airways may also become constricted. This will cause difficulty in speaking, swallowing or breathing (the most dangerous condition).
Swelling is usually triggered by certain foods, drugs or insects. In severe cases, it may require an immediate injection to reduce the swelling.
Dealing with allergies
If your child has an allergy, take him to a doctor for proper medical treatment. Self-medication will not solve the problem, and may worsen it.
Even with treatment, living with allergies can be tough on your child. He can ease his discomfort by learning to avoid situations where he might be exposed to known allergens.
On your part, it may be as simple as ensuring that his environment is clean. Even if the allergies never go away completely, at least your child will be able to enjoy the journey of learning, discovering and playing.