Detecting Toddler Allergies
Sometimes it will be easy to recognize the cause of allergies in a toddler. If one or both parents suffers from allergies, there's a good chance that the child suffers from similar allergies. Other times it can be difficult to recognize the triggers, or to know that allergies are even present. An allergic reaction could look like a mild cold. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, disorders related to allergies are the most chronic diseases among children.
What type of reaction your toddler has depends not only on the trigger of the allergies, but also on each individual child. In cases where a child suffers more serious allergic reactions, or in toddlers who have frequent allergy symptoms, an allergy specialist is often recommended. If you suspect that your toddler has allergies, it is a good idea to schedule a visit to your child's pediatrician and possibly an allergist. You will also want to be on the lookout for symptoms and possible triggers.
If you suspect that your child has allergies, keep a daily journal. Take note of when reactions occur, what the child was doing right before the reaction and what, if anything, made the reaction go away. This can help determine if allergies are to blame, as well as what may have caused them to occur. Knowing the triggers is the first step to both prevention and treatment.
Allergy Symptoms and Treatments
Not all toddler allergies will warrant a doctor's visit or require the same treatment and care. A mild rash that fades in a few days or a stuffy nose that disappears in a few hours usually don't require intervention. If your child is gasping for air or lacking energy, a doctor's visit should be scheduled immediately.
Nasal congestion is a very common sign of environmental allergies. These are often seasonal allergies, such as those to pollen or mold spores. These allergies could also be triggered by pet dander or a particular fragrance. If your toddler experiences nasal congestion that does not seem to regularly recur, it may be a response to an environmental irritant, such as dust, but not necessarily an allergy. If this symptom recurs frequently or follows a pattern, such as occurring every time you visit the local pet shop, it is likely an allergy. Congestion accompanied by red, itchy or watery eyes is often a good indication of an allergy.
The best way to deal with these allergies is to remove them from the environment. If pet dander is the culprit, the animal will have to go. Pollen is almost impossible to avoid, but keeping children inside an air-conditioned room with proper filters can help. Be sure to clean and check your air conditioner regularly; mold growth can be another source of respiratory troubles.
Sometimes children will outgrow seasonal allergies, others may have allergies get worse as they get older. Allergy shots can help kids who have severe allergies, and they may help prevent kids from developing asthma. It takes many years for these shots to be effective, and they can only begin once a child reaches the age of 4 or 5.
Never give your child an over-the-counter allergy medicine without a doctor's supervision. Antihistamines can kill young children, and most doctors recommend against using them in children under the age of 5.
Coughing and wheezing also can be signs of allergies in a toddler. These symptoms can be triggered by allergies to foods, such as fish or peanut butter. These are far more serious than seasonal allergies and may lead to death if untreated. Anaphylaxis can cause life-threatening shock within seconds of exposure. If your toddler is struggling to breathe, get to a hospital immediately.
Allergic reactions could also be an early sign of asthma, a chronic condition in which the airways narrow and fill with mucus. Unlike allergies, asthma can be triggered by stress or changes in air temperature. As with severe food allergies, asthma can result in death and requires medical attention.
Diarrhea and vomiting are also signs of food allergies. Cow's milk and dairy products are common culprits.
With food allergies, the only guaranteed treatment may be to eliminate the food from the child's diet. In severe cases, children should not even be in the vicinity of the problem food. As a parent, these allergies present particular problems, because you'll need to check the ingredients of everything your child eats until she is old enough to do it for herself.
If your child has a severe food allergy, inform caretakers, babysitters and parents of friends that the food is not allowed near your child. Talk to day care centers and schools as well, to make sure that your child won't be served a potentially deadly snack or lunch.
What will happen if my toddler has an allergic reaction to a food?
If your toddler is allergic to a food, her body treats the food like an invader and launches an immune-system attack.
Children's Symptom Guide
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Sometimes the body makes an antibody called IgE, a protein that can detect the food. If the food is eaten again, the antibody tells your toddler's immune system to release substances, such as histamine, to fight the "invader."
These substances cause allergy symptoms, which can be mild or severe.
Symptoms — like hives
or swelling, watery eyes, a runny nose, or trouble breathing — usually show up within minutes to two hours after eating a specific food. If your toddler has a severe allergic reaction
, it can be life threatening.
In some cases, though, food allergy symptoms — such as eczema
or gastrointestinal problems like vomiting
— are chronic, or ongoing. (Eczema is dry, scaly patches of skin that show up on the face, arms, or legs, but usually not the diaper area.)
Toddlers can have a reaction to a food even if they've eaten it before without any problem. So if your child inherited the tendency to be allergic to eggs, she might not have a reaction the first few times she eats them — but eventually she'll show symptoms.
Keep in mind that early exposures to the ingredient may have been when it was combined with something else — for instance, the eggs, milk, or ground nuts in a cookie.
What foods might my toddler be allergic to?
It's possible to be allergic to any food, but these eight foods are responsible for 90 percent of food allergies: eggs, milk, peanuts, wheat, soy, tree nuts (like walnuts, Brazil nuts, and cashews), fish (such as tuna, salmon, and cod), and shellfish (like lobster, shrimp, and crab).
What should I do if I think my toddler's having an allergic reaction to a food?
If your toddler ever seems to be having trouble breathing, has swelling of the face or lips, or develops severe vomiting or diarrhea after eating, call 911 or your local emergency number right away.
Severe allergic reactions are nothing to fool around with. Your child's airway can close up within minutes, so don't call the doctor for advice or drive her to the emergency room. You need paramedics on the scene as soon as possible.
If your toddler consistently has symptoms within two hours of eating a certain food, talk with her doctor. He may refer you to a pediatric allergist for testing.
An allergist should be able to tell you which food is causing the problem (sometimes it's more than one) and whether the symptoms are part of an immune reaction, indicating an allergy, or are a sign that your child is unable to digest the food, indicating a food intolerance.
Once your toddler has had an allergic reaction to a food, you'll want to be prepared in case it happens again. Even if her first reaction was mild, the next might be severe. Your child's doctor can provide you with an action plan, including instructions on how to manage an allergic reaction.
The doctor may recommend that you carry an epinephrine auto-injector, which he can prescribe and show you how to use in case of a reaction. These devices look like magic markers and automatically administer the right dose of epinephrine to stop an allergic reaction.
Auto-injectors are generally recommended for children who weigh at least 33 pounds, but if your toddler has had an allergic reaction to a food, the doctor may recommend one for her now.
Make sure anyone who takes care of your toddler — babysitters, relatives, daycare workers — knows about her allergy and what she shouldn't eat. Point out the kinds of foods that could hide the substance and ask caregivers to double-check ingredients. Also make sure her caregivers know exactly what to do if she ever has an allergic reaction.