An allergy is an immune response to a usually harmless substance. A person who’s allergic to a substance will display a variety of symptoms. While most of the cases of allergies in children aren’t a cause for concern, sadly there are times when these reactions can be truly life-threatening.
To make sure that your child is allergy-free, or to help manage any allergies that they have, the doctors at Pediatrics of Sugarland clinic are here to help. Contact us today to book your appointment!
Allergies in children Q&A
What is an allergy?
An allergy is a response of the immune system to a substance that’s otherwise harmless to other people. During an allergic reaction, the immune system will be hypersensitive to a substance (known as an allergen) and will display symptoms of an exaggerated immune response following exposure to the allergen.
What are the most common allergens?
In theory, anyone can be allergic to anything. However, certain substances are more likely to cause an allergic reaction than others. These substances are known as common allergens and they include:
– Food items like eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, milk, shellfish, fish, wheat, and soybean.
– Toxins from insect bites or stings.
– Environmental allergens like pollen, animal hair, dust, or grass.
-Other: like certain drugs or latex.
What exactly happens during an allergic reaction?
The allergic reaction usually happens in two stages. The first stage is infra-clinical and usually goes unnoticed and without any symptoms. During this first stage, the immune system comes in contact with the allergen for the first time. Certain immune cells will become sensitized to this allergen and will remember it, so that the next time the body comes in contact with it, these specialized immune cells will be rapidly activated.
During the second contact with the allergen, the sensitized immune cells are rapidly activated, liberating a variety of biologically active substances, the most important being histamine.
The exaggerated histamine liberation is responsible for the symptoms that are usually associated with an allergic reaction.
In case of a severe allergic reaction, too much histamine will be liberated. This histamine liberation will not only be responsible for local allergic symptoms like redness, swelling, and itching, but the substance will travel throughout the body and to other organs, causing a variety of systemic complications, the most dreaded one being the state of anaphylactic shock.
What are the symptoms of an allergic reaction?
Common symptoms of an allergic reaction include skin redness and itching, swelling, sneezing, coughing, a runny or blocked nose, runny and itchy eyes, digestive discomfort, diarrhea, chest tightness, coughing, and wheezing to name a few.
These symptoms are mild, and while they are uncomfortable, they usually are not life-threatening.
Other times, an allergic reaction can be fatal. This happens in the case of anaphylaxis, which is a state of shock that the body goes into as a result of a massive production of histamine caused by exposure to the allergen.
During anaphylaxis, the child may experience dizziness or a loss of consciousness, low blood pressure, rapid heartbeat as well as other symptoms. If left untreated, anaphylaxis will lead to death.
Another potentially fatal symptom of an allergic reaction is the swelling of the upper respiratory airways, which will make it impossible for the child to breathe on their own.
As a result, if a child’s tongue, eyes, or lips begin to swell, or if they show signs of respiratory distress, it’s necessary to visit the nearest emergency department immediately.
What to do in case of an allergic reaction?
During the first allergic reaction to a substance, symptomatic treatment will be necessary. Mild symptoms like itching, sneezing or a runny nose can be treated with a simple prescription, while other symptoms like anaphylaxis and respiratory distress will require urgent medical attention.
After the treatment of the acute episode, it’s imperative to identify the allergen in question. A doctor will be able to do so by asking the family and the child the right questions, and by conducting specific tests.
When the allergen(s) is identified, the next step is to avoid all contact with it. It’s helpful for the child to carry an allergy bracelet or card, and in case of a severe reaction in the past, a prescription epinephrine pen can be lifesaving.
Last but not least, the family and school staff must be aware of the child’s allergy, and familiar with basic first aid procedures in case of a severe allergic reaction.
What’s the importance of the right medical care?
Allergies are very common among children and adults nowadays. Nevertheless, this condition can also be fatal in the absence of the right medical care. A pediatrician will be able to identify the allergen and will provide the child and their family with the advice necessary to avoid contact with the allergen, as well as the tools and guidance needed to not only prevent but also manage an allergic reaction. A pediatrician will also be a source of comfort and support for both the child and the family.