Baby Allergies & How to Handle Them

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Newborn with an allergic rash on the cheeks

In today’s day and age where we come across numerous medical disorders, allergies are quite common and aren’t necessarily meant to be feared. Not just adults, but even infants are prone to allergies. Food allergy is the most common type of allergy seen in children. Allergies in babies appear randomly, and you need to be aware of the most common causes of various allergies and how to handle them.

What is an Allergy?

‘Allergy’ is a commonly used term to indicate an abnormal reaction to some commonly known substance. The body becomes hypersensitive to some substances. An ‘allergic reaction’ is the outcome of the body’s reaction to this trigger.
Babies too are allergic to some foods such as milk, eggs, nuts, wheat and fish. They might develop rashes, difficulty in breathing and continuous sneezing due to an allergic reaction.

How common are Allergies in Babies?

Babies are prone to allergies as they are fragile and their immune system is still developing. Kids may be allergic to food as well as to other external substances.

Who is at Risk of getting Allergies?

It is difficult to determine a single trigger for allergies, so it is not easy to identify whether your child may develop an allergy or not. Nevertheless, genetics seem to have some connection to a person becoming allergic to a particular substance. If it runs in the family, then the chances of your baby too being allergic to the same things is very high. Sometimes, it might not be the same allergen (an allergy-causing substance) at all, but something entirely new that can cause an allergic reaction. Infants are at an increased risk as their immune system is not fully developed.

Allergy vs. Cold

Little girl using a handkerchief

It is very easy to mistake an allergy for common cold because some symptoms are very similar. In fact, some people don’t even know the difference between the two.
Common Cold is a virus, it is contagious too. When you catch a cold, the body’s defence counter-attacks and as a result of this you get cough, fever, aches and pains. It might take many days and some medication to get rid of the cold.
On the other hand, allergies are caused by the body’s overly sensitive immune system. The body senses otherwise harmless things as a foreign body and begins to attack them. This might cause an allergic reaction like rashes or sneezing. Some commonly known allergens are milk, soy, fish, dust, pollen, nuts and wheat. Unlike cold allergies, allergies do not go away so quickly, they keep recurring. They are also not contagious.

Signs your Baby has an Allergy not Cold

If your baby is irritated and has a stuffy nose for an extended period, then the baby might be allergic to something. An allergic reaction, unlike a cold, shows up immediately. If you notice that the child is unable to sleep with a stuffy nose or has rashes on the body, then there is a high chance that it is an allergy and not just cold.

How Children Get Allergies?

Most allergies are inherited and run in the family. Such allergies are mostly food related. The child can also get allergic to pets, mites and pollen. A child can develop allergies at any point in life and from anywhere.

Diagnosing Allergies in Children?

Allergic reactions are commonly seen immediately after exposure to the allergen. The very first symptoms are extensive sneezing, watery eyes and stuffy nose. They recur each time the child is exposed to those allergens.
There are several tests for different allergies. But the best way to know is to observe and identify the allergen causing them.

Why are Allergies on the Rise in Babies and Children?

There is no specific reasoning as to why allergies are on the rise in babies and children. The rising pollution levels make us prone to pollution outdoors. In general, it is believed that the clean indoors and lesser exposure to harmless germs may be a cause for the increase in allergies because the baby’s body lacks an opportunity to build a defence mechanism in such an environment. It would be good to allow children get dirty once in a while. Being overly protective can do more harm than good.

What is an Allergic Reaction and What Happens during that phase?

When we contact an allergen the body releases antibodies to fight against these allergens and those antibodies are called histamines. These histamines cause the blood vessels to swell up, which results in rashes, nasal blockage, sneezing, and itchy eyes making it difficult to breathe. Surprisingly, one kind of histamine attacks only one type of an allergy. For example, you may have an egg allergy, but you may not be allergic to peanuts.

What are the Common Allergies in Babies?

Some common allergies found in babies are:

Food Allergies

Food allergies are the most common type of allergies found in babies. Research shows that around 4% of infants and children suffer from food allergy. Food items such as nuts, eggs, wheat, chocolates, and fish are known to cause food allergies in babies.

Symptoms

Some of the most common symptoms observed are:

Complications

It is quite difficult when a child has food allergies as they will not be able to express their discomfort. Although the symptoms mentioned in the previous section seem harmless, in some cases, the tongue becomes thick due to swelling of the blood vessels. This swelling can block the air passage and the child might be unable to breathe (anaphylactic shock).

Treatment

Treatment for allergies is staying away from the allergens that cause those allergies. It might not be a practical solution. Medication such as antihistamines is prescribed by the doctor. Some food allergies disappear as the child grows up.

Preventive Measures

It is best to stay away from food that causes allergies. If you notice that your child is showing symptoms of an allergy, it is better to avoid those substances in the future.
Some breastfed babies are allergic to breast milk. This is more so because of the cow’s milk in the mother’s diet. Once they are given formula feed to replace breast milk they automatically get better. Signs of milk allergy in breastfed babies are; vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach pain, stuffy nose and no weight gain.
Your baby’s milk allergy might be only in the initial years, as he/she grows up the allergy might not exist.
Some toddlers are allergic to egg. It is more common in boys than in girls. If such is the case, avoid giving them eggs for a few years. You might want to try introducing egg in their diet after a couple of years to see if their allergy is gone.

Baby Skin Allergy

Baby with rashes on his cheeks

An average of 10% of children has skin allergies, the most common one being eczema also known as Atopical dermatitis. Other skin allergies are:

  • Seborrhea
  • Dermatitis
  • Prickly heat

Eczema is a kind of skin disease wherein dry red patches appear on the body. It has a burning sensation and pus oozes from those patches. They leave a crusty patch after they dry.

Symptoms

Red patches appear mostly on the neck, wrists and ankles.

Complications

Eczema, if left untreated can be very painful and it can become a life-long problem.

Treatment

Eczema is treated with a steroid (hydrocortisone) tropical cream.

Preventive Measures

Eczema can be easily managed with the following routine:

  • Avoid the allergens, skin irritants
  • Establish a regular skin care routine
  • Avoid excessive scratching or rubbing the baby’s allergy rash
  • Avoid stress

Nasal Allergies

Mother giving nose drops to her sleeping baby

Nasal allergies or respiratory allergies are severe and require immediate treatment. This allergy almost mimics common cold, but the difference is that cold affects the upper respiratory tract while nasal allergy affects the lower respiratory tract.

Symptoms

Respiratory allergies affect the airways and nasal passages causing coughing and wheezing. Difficulty in breathing and tightness in the chest are among other symptoms.

Complications

Wheezing or asthma is a serious condition as the child might experience difficulty in breathing, so it is important to take the child to the doctor immediately. Untreated nasal allergy can cause lung problems in future.

Treatment

Anti-inflammatory drugs or inhaled steroids are used to treat this allergy. These help in reducing the swelling in the nasal passages.

Preventive Measure

The best way to prevent respiratory allergies is to avoid those specific allergens. Below listed are some common ways to prevent nasal allergies:

  • Use dust mite proof mattresses and pillows.
  • Avoid smoking at home
  • Avoid carpeting the child’s room
  • Avoid pets indoors

Seasonal Allergies

Seasonal allergies are also called “Hayfever”. They are contracted through airborne allergens such as pollen and moulds. Otherwise harmless pollen and moulds are treated as foreign bodies, and the body is fighting against these by releasing histamines.

Symptoms

Some of the symptoms are:

  • Allergies in babies eyes such as itchy eyes.
  • Congestion
  • Stuffy or a runny nose
  • Itching in the ears
  • Scratchy throat

Complications

Although seasonal allergies are not dangerous, they do make life difficult. If left untreated, they might turn into long-term health issues such as asthma, sinusitis and ear infections. Allergies in babies’ eyes make them very irritable and restless.

Treatment

Hayfever might require some medication apart from avoiding the allergens. Some common allergy medication for babies that include antihistamines and nasal decongestants.

Preventive Measures

Following are some preventive measures:

  • Immunotherapy
  • Rinsing nasal passages with saline
  • Avoiding places with pollen and moulds
  • Using an air purifier

Pet Allergies

Little girl is allergic to her pet cat

Pet allergies are caused by the baby breathing in the pet dander (flakes of skin), saliva, urine and faeces. While animal fur is not so much of an allergen, it does attract a lot of pollen and dust.

Symptoms

The noticeable symptoms are as follows:

  • Watery eyes
  • A runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Wheezing

Complications

There are no serious complications in pet allergy, but it can be very discomforting for the child.

Treatment

Treatment includes immunotherapy, nasal sprays and bronchodilators.

Preventive Measures

  • It is best to avoid pets at home especially indoors.
  • Do not hug or kiss the pets.
  • Vacuum regularly.
  • Use air purifiers
  • Regular pet baths
  • Indoor Allergies
  • Indoor allergies include allergies due to dust, pets and moulds.

Symptoms

A cough and breathing issues are the key symptoms.

Complications

Although there are no severe complications, excessive cough and breathing issues can cause significant discomfort.

Treatment

Treatments include nasal sprays and immunotherapy.

Preventive Measures

It is advisable to keep the premises clean and avoid pets, if possible.

Most of the allergies can be treated only if the allergen is identified. The best baby allergic reaction treatment is to remove or avoid those allergens. Although most allergies are not dangerous, they are very discomforting for babies; it is best that they are treated as soon as possible.

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