Constant colds, growing pains, scrapes and bruises — children’s bodies are put through the wringer. And while your child is growing and learning about their body, their body is figuring out how to work with the world around it, too.
But the human body isn’t perfect. It may develop in ways that cause other problems. For instance, extra-sensitive lungs can lead to asthma, an overly responsive immune system can lead to allergies, and weak skin barriers can lead to eczema.
These three conditions are very common in children. Still, it can be frustrating to see the physical and emotional toll they can take on your child — and frightening if it puts them in danger.
- Allergies are the most common health conditions in children in the US
- 6.1 million children in the US have allergic rhinitis (hay fever)
- About 1 in 10 children will have eczema in their lives, but most grow out of it by the time they’re teenagers
- Over 6 million children in the US have asthma
- Roughly 4 million children in the US have some type of food allergy
5 fast facts about allergies, asthma, and eczema in children
Here’s what you should know about allergies, asthma, and eczema in children.
What Are Allergies?
Allergies is the general term for when your child’s immune system reacts abnormally to things that are usually harmless to most people, such as dust, plant pollen, mold, animals (including pet dander — or tiny flecks of skins shed by animals with fur or feathers), and foods (such as milk or nuts).
The sneezing, coughing, runny nose, and itchy eyes that allergy medication commercials depict come from airborne allergies, and they vary from child to child and allergy to allergy.
A child can also be allergic to certain foods, such as milk, eggs, peanuts, and soy. Their body reacts as if the food is harmful and their immune system tries to fight it off. It releases chemicals like histamine, which can affect the child’s breathing, skin, digestive tract, or cardiovascular (heart and vascular) system.
In some children, the allergy is so severe that they don’t even have to eat the food — they have a reaction from touching it, breathing it in, or even after eating off of a plate that once had the food on it but wasn’t cleaned properly.
How Does the Body Respond to Allergies?
Children with allergies usually experience symptoms after breathing in or ingesting an allergy-causing substance, such as pollen, mold, and certain foods. Symptoms include:
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Itchy eyes, mouth, or skin
- Throat tightness
- Trouble breathing
- Nausea and vomiting
There are seasonal and perennial allergies. Seasonal ones happen mainly during spring, summer, or early fall, such as with mold spores or pollen. Perennial allergies are year-round ones, such as with dust mites, pet dander, or food.
Children with severe allergies — usually to insect stings, foods, or certain medications — can be at risk for a sudden, life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. Signs of anaphylaxis usually involve more than one part of the body, such as the skin, mouth, lungs, heart, and gut, and include:
- Skin rashes, itching, and hives
- Swelling of the tongue, lips, or throat
- Shortness of breath, trouble breathing, or wheezing (a whistle-like sound while breathing)
- Dizziness or fainting
- Stomach pain, vomiting, or diarrhea
Whether or not your child has been diagnosed with an allergy, bring your child to the emergency room right away if they experience any signs of anaphylaxis.
Allergies are not curable — but there are ways to make them manageable for your child. As parents and caregivers, it’s important to understand what allergies are and how you can help keep your child comfortable, healthy, and safe.
How Are Allergies Treated?
The best way to prevent allergic reactions is to avoid the allergens (allergy-causing substances) that trigger them. At Stormont, your child can be tested using skin tests, blood tests, and patch tests (tests that detect delayed allergic reactions and use patches instead of needles).
However, it can be impossible for your child to completely avoid certain allergens. Medication, such as an antihistamine (like Benadryl) or an EpiPen can help make them more comfortable and even save their lives.
Your child’s pediatrician and an allergist — a physician who specializes in allergies — can help decide the best course of treatment for your child.
Medications for Allergies
There are many medications — both prescription and non-prescription — for allergies that are meant to reduce symptoms. Some non-prescription (also called over-the-counter, or OTC) medications are not approved for use in younger children. Always consult your child’s pediatrician before giving your child any OTC medications.
Prescription and non-prescription allergy medications include:
- Intranasal corticosteroids (a chemical similar to hormones that your body makes to fight stress from illnesses and injuries), which are nasal sprays that can reduce nasal congestion, sneezing, and itchy and runny nose
- Antihistamines, which combat the effects of histamine (the chemical released during an allergic reaction), and are found in eye drops, nasal sprays, pills, and oral syrups
- Decongestants, which help relieve the stuffiness and pressure caused by swollen nasal tissue, and are found in pills, oral syrups, and nasal sprays
- Nasal sprays and rinses, which contain saline, nasal cromolyn (a medicine that helps reduce inflammation), or nasal ipratropium (a medicine that helps reduce nasal drainage)
- Leukotriene pathway inhibitors, which decrease the amount of leukotrienes — or chemicals the body releases when it senses an allergen — which can cause a tightening of the airways
- Eye drops, which can help ease redness, swelling, watery eyes, and itching caused by allergens
If medications aren’t working or you’re looking for a more long-term treatment, your child’s provider may recommend immunotherapy — a type of treatment that boosts the immune system and helps it better fight off allergens.
Immunotherapy is only used for certain types of allergies, such as dust mites or grass pollens.
There are two kinds of immunotherapy:
- Allergy shots: Injections that contain a small amount of the allergen, initially given in increasing doses and followed by doses that are increasingly spaced out. They build resistance to the effects of the allergen, reducing symptoms and sometimes making the allergic reaction disappear altogether.
- Sublingual tablets: These are tablets that are dissolved under the tongue daily several months before allergy season begins. Treatment can continue for as long as 3 years, and right now, there are only treatments for a few allergens, such as certain pollens and dust mites.
If your child has a severe and potentially life-threatening allergy, they may need an epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen). An EpiPen works by injecting a hormone called epinephrine into the body when a person is having an anaphylactic reaction. Epinephrine (also called adrenaline) causes the muscles in your child’s airway to relax, allowing them to breathe more easily.
EpiPens are small, easy to use, and children who are old enough can learn how to give themselves the injection. Some children may need to carry one with them at all times, and all caregivers should know where to find it if needed.
Be sure to tell to your child’s school if they carry an EpiPen. You may be able to keep an extra one in a special location, such as the nurse’s office. You can also ask if there are any allergen-free zones, such as a peanut-free zone, where your child will be less likely to need their EpiPen.
How Can You Help Your Child Manage Their Allergies?
To help ease your child’s discomfort from allergies, you can:
- Stay home or keep windows closed when pollen levels are high
- Have your child wear glasses or sunglasses when outside to keep pollen out of their eyes
- Use special bedding on your child’s bed to limit exposure to dust mites
- Remove carpets, rugs, and heavy drapes from your child’s bedroom to avoid dust build-up
- Place a dehumidifier in your child’s bedroom room to control mold
- Inform the people who care for your child (teachers, babysitters, friends’ parents) about their allergies, especially life-threatening ones, and make sure they know what to do if your child has an allergic reaction
- Teach your child how to read a food label to see if a food contains a substance they are allergic to
What Is Asthma?
Asthma is a lung disease that causes inflammation (swelling) and narrowing in the airways. This can make it difficult to breathe. Symptoms of asthma include:
- Wheezing (a whistling sound while breathing)
- Chest tightness
- Shortness of breath
Usually, symptoms are more common at night, early in the morning, or after exposure to triggers such as dust, smoke, or pet dander.
Symptoms can range from a mild annoyance to sudden — and very scary — breathing emergencies. These emergencies are called an “asthma attack.” During an asthma attack, air passages are severely narrowed, making it extremely difficult to breathe.
Life-threatening symptoms of an asthma attack include:
- Fast breathing with visible chest retractions (skin sucks in between or around chest plate or rib bones)
- Very pale or blue coloring in face, lips, or fingernails
- Rapid movement of nostrils
- Expanded chest that doesn’t deflate when they exhale
- Infants failing to respond to or recognize parents
If your child is experiencing any life-threatening signs of an asthma attack, bring them to the emergency room right away.
Most children with asthma will have symptoms before they turn 5, and in young children, it can be difficult to recognize the signs of asthma because it may be more difficult for them to communicate their symptoms.
How Is Asthma Treated?
The right treatment for your child’s asthma can help them sleep through the night, avoid missing daycare or school, and even save their life. At Stormont Vail Health, along with your child’s pediatrician, immunologists (physicians that specialize in allergy and asthma treatment) can help you determine the best treatment plan, when you might need to change medications, and when you need to seek emergency medical treatment.
Depending on the severity and frequency of your child’s symptoms, your child may need quick-relief medication, long-term control medication, or both.
Quick-relief medication is taken at the first sign of asthma symptoms and helps expand the passageways into the lungs, making it easier for your child to breathe and release mucus from their lungs. These include:
- Anticholinergics (pills that expand the passageways into the lungs)
Long-term control medications
If your child needs to take quick-relief medication often — usually more than two times a week — they may need to begin long-term control medication. These are taken every day to prevent symptoms and asthma attacks, and they include:
- An inhaler containing a type of drug called corticosteroids
- Tablets containing antileukotrienes or leukotriene modifiers, which decrease the amount of leukotrienes — or chemicals the body releases when it senses an allergen — which can cause a tightening of the airways
- An inhaler containing long-acting beta2-agonists, which relax the muscles lining the airways that carry air to the lungs, so the tubes remain open and breathing is easier
How Can You Help Your Child Manage Their Asthma?
To help control your child’s asthma symptoms and prevent flare-ups at home, you can:
- Identify and avoid known triggers, such as pollen and mold, by closing the windows when pollen levels are high or placing a dehumidifier in your child’s room to prevent mold
- Keep an asthma diary to learn about early warning signs and track treatment effectiveness
- Take note of the signs of a flare-up, such as your child’s mood, behavior, or complaining that they “feel funny”
- Make sure your child gets their yearly flu vaccine, as children with asthma who get the flu are at a higher risk for flare-ups
What Is Eczema?
Eczema refers to many different skin conditions that cause redness, irritation, and small, fluid-filled bumps. The most common form of eczema is a skin allergy called atopic dermatitis. “Atopic” refers to an allergy and “dermatitis” refers to the skin.
There are many triggers of eczema, ranging from pollen, dust, and skin products to excessive heat, stress, or sweating.
Common symptoms of eczema include:
- Dry, sensitive, red, or inflamed skin
- Very bad itching
- Dark-colored or scaly patches of skin
- Oozing or crusting skin
- Areas of swelling
How Is Eczema Treated?
The most common medical treatment for eczema is a topical corticosteroid. This is a lotion or cream that works with the body’s natural system to reduce inflammation, similar to the effect of hormones made by the adrenal glands. They’re applied right on your child’s skin — usually twice a day.
Other treatments for eczema include:
- Nonsteroid medications, such as topical calcineurin inhibitors (TCIs), which deactivate the part of the immune system that causes eczema symptoms. These can be used instead of or at the same time as topical steroids.
- Antihistamines, to help control itching, allowing the eczema to heal. These block chemicals called histamines, which cause the allergic reaction of itching.
- Oral or topical antibiotics, to prevent or treat infections that can be common in children with eczema
Your child’s health care provider can help determine the best treatment for their needs. Unless instructed by your child’s provider, keep going with the treatment plan, even if the symptoms go away. This will prevent symptoms from returning.
How Can You Help Your Child Manage Their Eczema?
To help ease your child’s discomfort from eczema, you can:
- Avoid giving your child hot baths, using scented soaps, and excessively scrubbing after bathing
- Avoid dressing your child in irritating clothing, such as wool, and use materials that breathe, such as cotton
- Keep your child’s skin moisturized by applying lotions, petroleum jelly, or creams that don’t contain alcohol
- Use oatmeal soaking products in your child’s bath or apply cool compresses to ease itching
- Minimize skin damage by keeping your child’s nails cut short or having them wear comfortable gloves to bed to avoid accidental itching or scratching
Planning Ahead For Your Child’s Safety
Allergies, asthma, and eczema can range from being a mild disturbance to putting your child’s life in danger. However, with the proper care, children are able to live happy, healthy, and safe lives.
At Stormont Vail, your child’s pediatrician, immunologists, and other allergy specialists can diagnose and help manage your child’s care. By being prepared and having a plan in place, allergies, asthma, and eczema can be very manageable for you and your child.
Why Choose Stormont Vail
Located in Topeka, Kansas, Stormont Vail Health is a community-driven organization. It offers close to home care and with limited travel requirements, it will be easier for you to get the care your child needs from experienced pediatric providers you can trust at Cotton O’Neil Pediatrics.
In 2018, Stormont Vail achieved Magnet designation for a third time. Magnet designation is one of the highest awards in nursing excellence and high-quality patient care. Only 9% of US hospitals have earned this recognition. The Joint Commission — with more than 50 years of accrediting hospitals in high quality standards — has also accredited Stormont Vail Hospital.
With a care team that includes pediatricians, behavioral health specialists, nurses, and other specialists, Cotton O’Neil Pediatrics has an experienced and skilled medical team to help you manage your child’s allergies, asthma, or eczema. Your child’s pediatrician may also refer them to a specialist.