Food allergy occurs in around 1 in 20 children (and in about 2 in 100 adults). Allergies to pollens, dust, medicines and other substances increase this number to an estimated 40% of children.
Allergies present when a susceptible person comes into contact with certain allergens. Allergens can be inhaled, consumed, injected (via stings or medicine) and absorbed into the skin.
There are no cures for allergies. Instead, people are usually advised by their doctor to avoid the allergens that affect them, and, if they come do into contact, to treat and manage their symptoms on a case-by-case basis. Some children will naturally grow out of certain allergies as they age.
Allergies are commonly passed on in families, so if you have an allergy, it’s wise to keep watch for it in your own children. If both parents have the same allergy, the chance of your child being allergic to the same thing increases significantly.
Common allergens include:
- Dust mites;
- Industrial chemicals;
- Animal dander and saliva;
When a child suffers an allergic reaction, the immune system is reacting to something in the environment it considers dangerous. Many allergic reactions are mild, but for some, allergic reactions can be severe and even life threatening.
Signs of a mild allergic reaction include:
- Hives or welts;
- Tingling in and around the mouth;
- Stomach pain, diarrhoea or vomiting;
- Facial swelling.
Signs of a severe allergic reaction include:
- Difficulty breathing/noisy breathing;
- Swelling of the tongue;
- Difficulty talking/hoarse voice;
- Swelling or tightness in the throat;
- Loss of consciousness;
- Paleness and floppiness (especially in very young children).
How to prevent an allergic reaction
The best way to prevent an allergic reaction is to completely avoid the allergens that affect you. Other ways to avoid reactions are to:
- Avoid known causes;
- Be cautious around high risk substances;
- Be cautious around allergens that affect family members;
- Help your child to understand his or her allergies, and teach them how to avoid allergens and prevent reactions;
- Restrict food sharing or swapping – especially between children;
- Notify teachers and parents of friends of allergies;
- Visit your doctor for allergy testing.
Anaphylaxis can be life-threatening. This is when someone has difficulty breathing after eating or coming into contact with an allergen. If you suspect someone is having a severe allergic reaction, call an ambulance immediately on 000. While you are waiting for the ambulance to arrive, the person should lie still and flat to keep their blood pressure stable.
Common allergies in kids and what to look for
Many children are allergic to ordinary things in our homes and environment, such as dust mites, insect stings and bites, pets, grasses, weeds and pollens. Food can also act as allergens, however food allergies are less common.
Some people are allergic to less common things such as medications, latex, or industrial chemicals.
Dust mites are found in almost every Australian home, living in warm, moist places such as mattresses, pillows, soft toys, soft furnishings and carpet. Usual symptoms are itchy eyes, eczema, runny nose and asthma.
To reduce dust mites in your house:
- Cover your child’s bed with a dust mite cover;
- Wash pillow cases and sheets in hot water every week;
- Vacuum mattresses and pillows monthly;
- Keep your home as clean, airy and bright as possible – dust mites love dark and humid conditions;
- Vacuum carpets frequently, and have them cleaned if you have a bad dust mite problem;
- Replace carpets with tiles or floorboards;
- Opt for leather sofas and keep them free of throw rugs.
Hayfever is the result of pollens, grasses and weeds, and causes runny, itchy eyes and nose. Hayfever allergens may result in eczema and other rashes in some people.
To reduce the effect:
- Wear long sleeves and trousers when sitting or playing on the grass;
- Have a bath or shower after playing outside;
- Stay indoors on windy days;
- Keep house windows closed when mowing the lawn.
Many children are okay with their own pets, but when it comes to a friend’s pet, they could be allergic. Symptoms are usually hayfever-like, and should ease after a bath. If your child has symptoms, you may consider giving him or her an antihistamine 30 minutes before visiting a friend who has a pet.
Most children will have a small amount of swelling following an insect sting or bite, but around 10% of children suffer swelling, welts or hives which last for a few days after. Approximately 1% of children can have a severe allergic reaction.
To reduce the effect:
- Remove a sting by flicking it out rather than squeezing;
- Wash the sting site and apply a cold pack;
- Give your child a dose of antihistamine following a bite or sting;
- Carry an adrenaline auto-injector for those with severe allergy.
Chemicals in common items such as metal, jewellery, clothing dye, sunscreens, make-up, cleaning products and glues can cause a reaction known as dermatitis. Latex from balloons, rubber gloves, baby bottle teats and dummies can also enrage dermatitis, and in some cases cause anaphylaxis.
Purchase hypoallergenic and all-natural products, remove irritants from your home and pre-apply creams and moisturisers to a small area of skin to test them.
Food allergies occur in 5% of children and 2% of adults, and many more people display symptoms of food intolerance. An allergy is your immune system believing something is toxic, whereas food intolerances are more of a general discomfort. Intolerances are less severe than food allergies.
Common food allergens include:
- Tree nuts;
- Fish or shellfish.
Foods that people are commonly intolerant to are:
- Dairy products;
- Food additives;
- Citrus fruits;
- Red wine.
How to reduce your child’s risk of developing food allergies
- Eat a balanced and nutritious diet while pregnant or breastfeeding
- The Australian government recommends you breastfeed your child until they are at least six months old. If you are unable to breastfeed, use a partially hydrolysed milk formula. These contain broken down proteins, which studies show might help prevent the development of allergies in children.
- Introduce solids from around six months of age. Avoid introducing solid foods before the age of 4 months, as these can be associated with an increased risk of developing a food allergy.