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Written by Caroline Meyer

It may be difficult to identify if your child has an allergy but repeated hives or rashes, cramps, stomach ache or nausea after eating a particular food may be a symptom of a possible allergy. While you cannot control everything your child eats all the time, you should be on the look out for allergy symptoms so you can try an prevent them ingesting foods that they are allergic to. 

What is an allergy? 

An allergy is when your body decides a certain substance, which is generally harmless, is capable of harming the body. This causes an abnormal immune response. This can be caused by dust, food, pollen, medications, shellfish and various other substances. These are referred to as allergens. Many millions of people suffer from allergies. Identifying an allergy early in life will help reduce reactions and illness. This also results in less missed school days for your child and less days off work for you if you are not a home-based parent. 

What is the process in the body? 

Your immune system treats a particular substance as an invader and stimulates an immune response. Your body tries to “fight” the foreign body which it has identified as harmful. This can cause reactions which can range from an annoyance to something that can actually be life-threatening if not treated immediately. These reactions occur due to histamines being released in to the body as part of the immune response. These chemicals can effect the throat, eyes, nose, skin, lungs and digestive system. Once it happens the first time, it is likely to trigger again when exposed to the allergen in future. Some allergies can occur at any time whereas others such as pollen allergies tend to be more seasonal. 

Who is at risk for allergies? 

Everyone has a risk of an allergy. It can be hereditary, so some kids may develop the same allergies as their parents, but it is not a given. It is only a risk of developing an allergy, not a particular allergy that is passed on through the genes. It is also possible for children to develop allergies even if neither parent suffers from allergies. There is also a higher risk for people who are allergic to one allergen to be allergic to a number of others as well. 

What are the main symptoms to watch out for? 

Symptoms such as eczema (skin rashes) and atopic dermatitis (hives) are a possible indication of an allergy. Asthma and difficulty breathing properly, constant ear infections, runny nose, itchy eyes, coughing and sneezing (hay-fever) or an upset stomach after eating certain foods is a good indication that your child may have an allergy. 

What are the most common allergens? 

Exposure to pollens, insect bites or stings, dust mites, moulds, pet dander, animal saliva, pet urine, cockroaches, cigarette smoke, car exhaust, perfume are some of the more common allergens and irritants that are non-food based. Allergies to insect venom can cause extremely serious reactions if an affected person is bitten or stung. 

Certain antibiotics, especially penicillin can cause allergic reactions in some people. There are also a number of other medications that can cause allergic reactions so be aware whenever a new medication is used. Chemicals such as laundry detergents and some cosmetics can cause skin sensitivity and allergic reactions. Other chemicals known to be allergens include some types of household cleaners, dyes and pesticides.  

Food-based allergens include, peanuts, eggs, shellfish, dairy products, soy, tree-nuts and wheat. Up to 3% of children under 3 have an allergy to dairy and can also not use formulas that are cow-milk based. Eggs are often a hidden food as they are used to prepare many different foods and can be a challenge to keep out of a child’s diet. Fortunately most children do outgrow an egg allergy. Many people are allergic to shellfish and some are even allergic to fish. Peanut allergies are a growing concern, with higher reactions to nuts in general. These are lifelong allergies and foodstuffs have to be scrutinised for possible nut contamination. Soy and wheat are also found in many foods and careful reading of ingredients is important if your child suffers from allergies to these products. An allergy to wheat is not the same as a sensitivity to gluten (Celiac disease). Gluten sensitivity can make you feel ill after eating foods containing the substance (rye, wheat, barely), but a wheat allergy can cause a life-threatening allergic reaction. 

Some children may suffer from cross-reactions. This happens when they eat or come in to contact with a protein that is similar to one that they have an allergy for. They may have a reaction to something even though they do not have a specific allergy to the item. People with a latex allergy also demonstrate a higher risk for allergies to avocado, banana, chestnuts and kiwi.  

The severity of allergies differ from person to person and allergy to allergy. The reaction to a particular substance may not be the same every time. It can be mild one day and severe the next. It is always best to avoid allergens as far as possible if there is a known reaction to it. It is recommended that people who have a possibly life-threatening allergy carry an epinephrine auto-injector which can be used in case of a severe reaction. It will lower blood pressure and reduce swelling and should always be on hand as allergen exposure can not always be controlled.

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