What are allergies?

An allergy is an overreaction of the immune system to a substance that is harmless to most people. Things that trigger the allergic reaction are called allergens. In a person with allergies, the body attacks allergens causing reactions that range from mild to fatal. Allergies in children can consist of sensitivities to medications, environmental agents, or foods. Allergies can develop at any age. Your child can become allergic to a medication the first time it is taken or after taking it many times. Common environmental allergens include pollen, bees, animals (cats, dogs), grass, or dust. Common food allergies include milk, peanuts, fruits, seafood, or eggs.

What is anaphylaxis

A child with severe allergies is at risk for a sudden, life threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. This type of reaction is uncommon, but if your child is at risk it is important to know the signs and be prepared. It can begin like a normal reaction and become more severe. It can start within seconds of exposure or up to 2 hours later if triggered by a food allergy. Anaphylaxis usually involves more than one body system and includes severe reactions such as feeling faint or actually passing out, trouble breathing or swelling in the mouth, face, or throat. Left untreated, anaphylaxis can be fatal.

If your child has been diagnosed with an anaphylactic reaction, your doctor will likely prescribe an epinephrine auto-injector. It is important to carry this medication with you at all times and know how and when to use it. A child experiencing anaphylaxis needs an injection of epinephrine and immediate medical attention. If you suspect your child is experiencing anaphylaxis, call 911.

What is a latex allergy?

A latex allergy means that you are allergic to the protein in the natural rubber latex. Reactions to latex can be delayed and limited to the point of contact (rashes, dermatitis) or can be immediate and systemic.

Common items that contain latex include:

  • Clothes (nylons, spandex)
  • Household rubber gloves, latex gloves
  • Diapers, bottles, nipples, pacifiers
  • Household insulation material
  • Newsprint or coupons with latex coating
  • Some foods (bananas, avocados, kiwis, chestnuts, and chewing gum)
  • Balloons
  • Some medical equipment

Hospitals have made a great effort to remove products that contain latex from regular use. However, some medical products still contain latex so it is important to notify your health care team should your child have a latex allergy.

Children are not born with a latex allergy. A latex allergy develops as one is exposed to latex in the items above numerous times. Also, the powder from some of these items can also expose children to latex.

What causes allergies?

Hereditary factors play a big part in determining whether a child has allergies. Having one parent or sibling with allergies gives a child a 25% chance of developing allergies and this chance increases with every additional family member who has allergies. Specific allergies and type of reaction are not necessarily inherited so it isn’t likely your child will be allergic to the same things as the parent or react the same way (hives, difficulty breathing). Children allergic to one substance are more likely to develop allergies to other things as well. While heredity is a very important factor, children who don’t have any relatives with allergies can also develop them.

What are symptoms of allergies?

The following are symptoms of allergies. However, each child may experience symptoms differently and reactions do not always remain the same. A mild reaction in the past does not always mean a mild reaction in the future.

Eyes

  • Itchy, watery, red or swollen eyes

Ear, nose, mouth, throat

  • Blocked ear
  • Runny, itchy, or blocked nose
  • Postnasal drip
  • Sneezing
  • Swollen lips/tongue
  • Itching lips tongue and/or throat
  • Sore throat

Lungs

  • Coughing, or coughing up clear mucus
  • Wheezy (noisy) breathing
  • Feeling of tightness in the chest
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Shortness of breath

Skin

  • Eczema (dry, cracked, or broken skin)
  • Hives (patches of itchy skin, red skin rash)

Digestive tract

  • Stomach ache
  • Diarrhea/constipation
  • Nausea or vomiting

Other

  • Headache
  • Feelings of restlessness, irritability
  • Fatigue