Among the most common health problems in children, allergies—and particularly food allergies—are on the rise. Children’s Health℠ provides outstanding care for children with allergic diseases.
During an allergic reaction, your child’s immune system reacts negatively to one of a number of substances that are normally harmless when they are touched, eaten, or inhaled, such as latex, milk, or dust mites. In response to these substances, the immune system produces antibodies called immunoglobin E (IgE), which attach to blood cells called mast cells, causing them to release a variety of chemicals such as histamines, cytokines, and leukotrienes.
This cascade of events results in allergic reactions, including:
- Seasonal or allergic rhinitis, which, in response to environmental triggers, produces cold-like symptoms such as stuffiness and sneezing, as well as itching of the nose, ears, or roof of the mouth
- Urticaria—the appearance of itchy welts or hives
- Contact dermatitis—an itchy rash
- Allergic conjunctivitis—red, watery, itchy eyes
- Asthma—a respiratory reaction involving coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath
- Anaphylaxis—a severe and even life-threatening reaction.
Tests and Diagnosis
The allergist may use blood tests to measure your child’s level of IgE antibodies in response to allergic triggers, or allergens. These tests are often used to detect allergens such as mold, dust mites, foods, animal dander, and certain medications. If it seems that your child may react to environmental or seasonal triggers such as pollen, the doctor may perform skin tests, either by pricking the skin and applying a small drop of a purified form of a liquid allergen, or injecting the allergen under the skin with a needle. If after about 15 minutes the skin reddens at the site of the test, your child may be sensitive to the particular allergen introduced.
Your child’s doctor may order a group of these tests to look for reactions to a variety of suspected triggers. Challenge tests may also be used to detect certain kinds of allergies. These let your child safely inhale or ingest a small amount of an allergen to measure any response. Another test that can indicate an allergy is a nasal smear, which measures the amount of eosinophils in your child’s nose. An eosinophil is a type of white blood cell that multiplies during an allergic reaction.
There are three key ways doctors treat allergies—avoidance, medication and immunotherapy. Your child’s doctor will educate you and your child about the best ways to avoid contact with allergens to prevent reactions.
When complete avoidance isn’t possible, immunotherapy or medications can bring relief. Immunotherapy involves painless shots that are given over a period of time to treat environmental allergies and asthma.
Medications may include antihistamines and decongestants. And, for children with asthma or other respiratory difficulties associated with allergies, other drugs may be used, such as bronchodilators, anti-inflammatories, antileukotrienes, and a monoclonal antibody.
Our physicians also treat children for other immune reactions, such as food protein induced enterocolitis, a gastrointestinal reaction to a food protein; eosinophilic esophagitis, a reaction in the esophagus that produces symptoms resembling those of gastroesophageal reflux; and oral allergy syndrome, a cross-reactivity that causes some people with environmental allergies to exhibit symptoms upon eating certain foods.
Children with allergies may also be evaluated and counseled by a registered dietitian. Your doctor will work with the allergy care team and with you to create a treatment program that is best suited to your child’s particular symptoms.