Whether they are runny noses, teary eyes or annoying rashes, allergies are an all too common bane of growing up. In their severe forms, they make life miserable for the affected and drive desperate parents up the wall.
Perhaps it is a sign of our times that the number of children suffering from allergies seems to be increasing. Doctors report a rise in the incidence of cases of hay fever, eczema and chronic rhinitis over the last few decades. Apart from causing absence from school, childhood allergies are also responsible for preventing children from living normal lives or enjoying healthy pursuits.
What is an allergy?
An allergy is the reaction involving certain parts of an allergic person's body, typically the eyes, nose, lungs or skin, to the presence of an allergen, the substance that causes the allergy. The allergen is a substance that is harmless except to people allergic to it. The body of a person, who is allergic to a particular substance, considers the introduction of this allergen to be an invader such as a virus. The body's immune system releases antibodies to defend the body against the invasion by the allergen, which manifests as the physiological reactions that we know as the symptoms of allergy.
A person can suffer an allergic reaction by eating, inhaling, or touching the allergen, thereby affecting areas of the body such as the nose, eyes, lungs or skin.
The most usual symptoms of allergy include:
- Blocked or runny nose
- Itchy or teary eyes
- Difficulty in breathing
- Skin rashes or hives
- Diarrhea or indigestion
The most common allergens include:
- Dust mites
- Certain industrial chemicals
- Animal dander (scales or flakes of dry skin)
- Certain foods
develop starting from the ages of one to two years, though they can even develop earlier. This is because a child would have to be exposed to a particular substance for some time in order to develop an allergy to it. Allergies can be distinguished from other infections by the fact that they disappear on their own, once the child is no longer in contact with the allergen. Seasonal allergies occur largely at a particular time of the year, due to the presence of pollen or grass in the environment. Perennial allergies, which are caused by non-seasonal allergens such as food, dust mites or chemicals occur through out the year. Both genetic and environmental factors play a role in the development of allergies.
Inherited genetic factors predispose children to developing allergies. Allergies are known to occur more in children of allergic parents than in children having non-allergic parents. For instance, if you suffer from allergies, there is a 40 percent possibility that your child will also develop allergies. In case of both parents being allergic, the risk of the child developing allergies doubles to 80 percent.
Several factors in the environment can influence the development of allergies. If these factors are identified and altered, it may be possible to arrest the development of certain allergies.
Environmental factors that may trigger the development of allergies include:
- Particles in smoke from burning of diesel fuel, such as from trucks and vehicles
- Pollution levels in the air including higher quantities of ozone and sulfur dioxde
- The presence of dust mites and cockroaches
- Introducing young infants to solid foods too early
Allergies, once they develop, cannot be cured. However, it is possible to control or alleviate their symptoms to enable the child to live as normal a life as possible.
Here are some common methods used in the treatment of allergies:
- Avoidance: This approach seeks to control allergies by preventing the allergic child from coming into contact with the allergens.
- Medications: These provide relief by controlling the symptoms of allergies.
- Allergic shots: These work by preventing the immune system from triggering an allergic reaction to specific allergens.