At its most basic, an allergy happens when the body reacts to a substance as if it’s a threat, and has an immune system response to it. That substance can be a food, or something that comes in contact with the skin, or it can be something in the air, like, pollen, mold or smoke, that a child might inhale.
Distinct types of respiratory allergies cause different symptoms, and are also often caused by different allergens.
- Allergic rhinitis: Also called hay fever, allergic rhinitis is the most common childhood allergy. The symptoms, including runny nose, which can last throughout a season, sneezing, watery or itchy eyes, post-nasal drip, and congestion. Allergic rhinitis is often caused by pollen from trees, grasses, or weeds. Because it’s often caused by plants, allergic rhinitis is often seasonal, although children who live in moderate temperatures, or in areas where there are many non-native species of plants may have symptoms through more than one season.
- Allergic asthma: Like all asthma, allergic asthma happens when the airways become inflamed and narrow, causing coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. The allergens that often cause allergic asthma include cigarette smoke, pollen, dust mites, animal fur, changing weather conditions, exercise, mold spores, stress, and viral infections. Depending on what a child is allergic to, allergic asthma can also be somewhat seasonal – pollen, mold spores, cold, and changing weather conditions can follow seasonal patterns, leaving some seasons easier to deal with than others.
- Eczema: Eczema, which is a dry, red, itchy skin rash that is often associated with allergies, can be made worse by contact with respiratory allergens like pollen, dust mites, and animal fur.
Treatment for respiratory allergies
For all allergies, the first line of defense is avoidance. Usually, this means starting to work with an allergist to pinpoint just what your child is allergic to, and doing your best to makes sure that your home, and other areas where he spends a lot of time, are as allergen-free as possible. This might mean cleaning more often, changing bedding more often, and using an air purifier in your home, especially in certain seasons, if your child’s allergies are seasonal.
As your child gets older, and the effects his allergies have on his life become more well-defined, his pediatrician or allergist may prescribe a regular antihistamine, or an inhaler, to treat allergy symptoms when contact with an allergen can’t be avoided. If a doctor prescribes a medication that is taken during an allergic reaction, it’s important to carry it with you whenever you’re out and about with your child, and to make sure all of his caregivers know how and when to administer the medication.
- “Allergy Causes in Children: What Parents Can Do.” HealthyChildren. American Academy of Pediatrics, November 21 2015. Retrieved November 20 2017. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/allergies-asthma/Pages/Allergy-Causes.aspx.
- “Children & Allergies.” American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Retrieved November 20 2017. http://acaai.org/allergies/who-has-allergies/children-allergies.
- “Seasonal Allergies in Children.” HealthyChildren. American Academy of Pediatrics, November 21 2015. Retrieved November 20 2017. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/allergies-asthma/Pages/Seasonal-Allergies-in-Children.aspx.