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Parent Education

Allergies and Asthma

Allergies and asthma are common childhood conditions with varying degrees of severity. Allergies occur in approximately 75% of the population while asthma occurs in approximately 15 percent. The probability of an individual having an allergy is mostly dependent on genetics of the family. If one parent has allergies, there is a 90% chance the child will have one. If both parents have allergies, the probability rises to 95%. However, the allergen that causes the reaction is not related to genetics. Thus, if Mom or Dad is allergic to bees or an antibiotic, the child's risk of being allergic to that same type of bee or antibiotic is not increased. Also, an allergy does not occur when first exposed to an allergen. It takes multiple exposures to the allergen before the person reacts. This explains why people "suddenly" have allergies after using a product for a long time.

Why all this concern over a drippy, red nose, a cough and maybe some dry and itchy skin? Because, some allergies are or can be life threatening. This is the result of the allergy being based in the immune system which has both a memory and the ability to increase its reaction to the allergen with each new exposure. (This is the same method by which the body fights off an infection it has seen before, as well as the reason for immunizations and boosters.) Therefore, with each exposure, the reaction can be worse than the last time, unpredictably so. This is especially true for food allergies. Since we eat from the time we are born, food allergies occur at a younger age, generally, than other allergies and can intensify quickly due to the time it takes for the body to recognize a particular food as being a problem.

So, what do we do when we encounter a food allergy? First, how common is the food and how strong is the reaction? If the food is common, such as milk, soy and peanuts or wheat, for example, special diets may be needed to maintain nutrition while avoiding the item(s). The affected person, or his/her parents and/or caregiver, must be avid label readers to identify any hidden sources of these items in packaged or processed foods. The parent needs to warn all caregivers, school, friends, etc. of the child’s allergy as well as the reaction that occurs. The parents should thus provide a snack that is within the dietary restrictions and an antihistamine dose, should it be needed. When the reaction is severe and potentially life threatening, the parent should also provide injectable epinephrine, commonly known as an Epi-pen, so that treatment can be started immediately upon exposure to the allergen. Then call 911.

Asthma has similar properties of over reaction to irritants and allergens focused in the lungs. When the average lung encounters an irritant, it may react with some mild swelling and some extra mucous production, which is quickly coughed up and removed. In the asthmatic lung, the reaction is different. First of all, the muscle around the tubes in the lung is slightly thicker and stronger. When it is irritated, those muscles squeeze down tighter closing down the opening within the tubes. The lining of the lung is in a constant state of mild swelling. The irritant further increases this swelling and, in turn, increases mucous production within the tubes, thereby, increasing the work necessary for breathing. After the diagnosis of asthma is made, the current recommendations are for long term control of the inflammation using daily doses of inhaled steroids, using either inhalers or nebulizers. Bronchodilators, such as albuterol, are used when needed during acute breathing difficulties. These are also given as inhaled medications using metered dose inhalers or nebulizers. Viral infections may cause severe exacerbation of the condition. Consult with your child’s doctor when he or she gets sick and experiences increased coughing, increased difficulty breathing or fatigue with or without fever.

Just remember, asthma and allergies are long term conditions that may impact certain portions of an individual's life, but, with a small amount of forethought and recognition of the signs of distress and trouble, these individuals can go on to live quite long, happy, healthy and active lives.

 

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