Allergic reactions occur when a child’s immune system reacts to normally harmless substances in the environment. An allergic reaction may occur in the skin, eyes, lining of the stomach, nose, sinuses, throat or lungs – places where immune system cells are located to fight off invaders that are inhaled, swallowed or come in contact with the skin. These reactions can be mild or moderate, such as hay fever and rashes, or severe, as in life-threatening anaphylaxis that can cause difficulty breathing and shock.
Allergic reactions may result in the following:
- Seasonal or allergic rhinitis (nasal stuffiness, sneezing, nasal itching, nasal discharge, itching in ears or roof of mouth)
- Allergic conjunctivitis (red, itchy, watery eyes)
- Atopic dermatitis or eczema (red, itchy, dry skin)
- Urticaria (hives or itchy welts)
- Contact dermatitis (itchy rash)
- Asthma (airway problems, such as shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing)
Although hundreds of ordinary substances can trigger allergic reactions, the most common triggers, called allergens, include:
- Tree, grass and weed pollens
- Natural rubber latex
- Dust mites
- Animal protein (dander, urine, oil from skin)
- Foods (milk, eggs, wheat, soy, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, peanuts)
- Insect stings
- Cockroach droppings and body parts
To diagnose your child’s allergies, in addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, your child's doctor may use the following:
Skin tests. The skin test measures your child's level of antibodies in response to certain allergens or triggers by applying different allergens with a small scratch or injection. Skin testing may not be performed on children who have had a severe life-threatening reaction to an allergen or have severe eczema.
Blood tests. Blood tests for allergies measure antibodies to specific allergens in the blood. As with skin testing, it is important to remember that a positive blood test does not always mean your child is allergic to that allergen.
Challenge test. This test is supervised by an allergist who administers a very small amount of an allergen that is inhaled or taken orally.
The three most effective ways to treat allergies are:
- Avoidance of the trigger
- Medications such as steroids, nasal sprays, antihistamines and decongestants
- Immunotherapy (allergy shots)
Lehigh Valley Health Network offers care for allergies for your child or teen. These services are affiliated with Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital, the region’s only associate member of the Children’s Hospital Association (CHA).