Childhood Allergies: What Should Parents Know?

The incidence of allergies in children has increased significantly in the last two decades. There are now more children with asthma, hay fever, and eczema than ever before. Closely following this increased prevalence of allergies is the rise in asthma, which has become the number one diagnosis for child hospital admissions. In my own practice in recent years, I have seen a steady stream of children as young as six months presenting with an allergic rash (eczema) as well as asthma and chronic nasal irritation (chronic rhinitis). Parents tell me that their children have runny noses, itchy and watery eyes, coughing and wheezing, without any evidence of viral infection. Many are convinced that their child's exposure to flowers, grass, weeds, and pets is the culprit.

General Information on Allergies
Allergies can develop in the first few months of life, evident as nasal congestion, cough, rash, or diarrhea following the ingestion of certain foods. Allergies affect all races and have been found in all parts of the world. Allergy is the term used to describe our immunologic sensitivity to an allergen (any substance that causes an allergic reaction). This sensitization may occur by inhaling airborne allergens or eating food that contains allergens. The consequence of allergens entering into our body involves the release of chemical messengers that bring about the well-known symptoms of allergy listed below:

-itchy or stuffy nose
-watery nasal discharge
-itchy eyes
-eye tearing and redness


And less frequently:
-palatal (roof of the mouth) itch
-bronchial asthma symptoms, such as wheezing.

Genetic Factors
If your child develops allergies, the cause will have been a combination of the genes he or she inherited from you as well as their environmental exposures. As parents, if one of you has a history of allergies, then each child will have about a 40% chance of developing allergies. If both of you have allergies, the risk increases to about 80%.

Genetic factors have also been intensively researched in recent years and what has emerged is that the genetics of allergy are quite complex, involving interactions between our environment and inherited tendencies. The exact genes that account for our allergies have not been fully identified.

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