The 411 on Allergies
Allergies, our bodies’ abnormal reaction to allergens, foreign invaders also called triggers, affect 1 in 5 Americans today. Allergies come in several varieties: environmental, animal, food, drug and seasonal, to name a few. They are gender blind, age blind and they know no boundaries. Some allergies run in families, while some seem to appear out of nowhere. Some people have allergies in infanthood, while others develop them in adulthood. Allergies can cause reactions that are mild, moderate or severe. Ranging from reactions like itchy rashes, sneezing, runny nose, reddening and/or swelling of the face, hands or feet, nausea and vomiting, shortness of breath, and in the most severe cases, loss of consciousness.
Today, more children from 3-5 years of age are presenting with allergies and fewer of them are growing out of those allergies. Allergies today are not only affecting children who suffer from the reaction. Nowadays, it is common to have blanket, preventive measures in place in the school setting. The ultimate goal is to minimize the chance of a person at risk for severe or life threatening reaction to have such a reaction while at school. For instance, many schools and daycare centers prohibit certain foods and treats from being served to any student. Peanut butter and jelly, a lunch bag staple for generations, especially in warmer months when the risk of meat and mayo spoilage is high, is no longer allowed. It isn’t served in the cafeteria nor are students allowed to bring it to school for lunch at most schools. However, since no one can control exposure of every allergen for every child, it is imperative that your child’s school is aware of his or her triggers and knows how to treat the child until emergency help arrives.
How do you know if you or your child has an allergy? Most parents find out their child has allergies when they have an unexpected reaction to something they have given them or allowed them to be around. The tests for allergies are generally not part of any comprehensive physical exam. There has to be suspicion that an allergy exists based on past reactions to triggers. Then you get the allergist to run either skin tests or blood tests to determine what the triggers are.
I think my child is having an allergic reaction to something. What should I do?
This really depends on the type of trigger. In all cases try to calm the child. If the child has any severe symptoms like shortness of breath, call 911. Most importantly, learn about your child’s allergic reactions and ask the doctor about specific steps you should take when the reaction arises.
I know my child has allergies, so how do I know if this is an allergy or a cold?
This is sometimes tricky even for some doctors! While allergies and cold share some symptoms, such as sneezing, runny eyes and noses, nasal and sinus congestion, colds have a few other symptoms that allergies do not share. Colds may present with flu like symptoms such as fever and aches. Allergies never present with fever or aches. Colds typically last 7 to 14 days. Allergies continue to persist as long as there is exposure to the triggering allergen.
What is the best treatment? The best treatment is actually prevention. This requires that the triggers are known and can be avoided. When that fails there are medications designed to reduce or stop the reactions. These are both prescription or over the counter antihistamines. The epi-pen delivers a single shot of a powerful antihistamine called epinephrine. It most effective when used as the symptoms are just starting. The epi-pen should travel with the person with allergies. If you eat out, for instance, you should have it in case the food ends up having an unexpected allergen in it. School children with severe allergic reactions should have one at home as well as one at school.
There are several reliable allergy resources available on the internet. We have provided a few to get you started. If you do not have access at home and need more information, please visit our resource library during business hours, located at 1012 Pennsylvania Avenue SE. We offer extended hours on evenings and some weekends when trainings and workshops are offered. Please refer to our current training calendar for specific dates.
www.aafa.org – Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America