Asthma and Allergies in Children – New Recommendations Can Bring Relief
Allergies and asthma in children can bring on a host of challenges for parents and caregivers. Distinguishing what is cause for concern can be just as baffling. A trusted pediatrician can provide answers and a plan of action. “A lot of progress is being made in the field of pediatric allergies these days,” said Dr. Beverly Frank of Tennessee Pediatrics. “We have a lot to offer children and their families to manage these conditions, whether mild or more severe.”
Common seasonal outdoor allergy triggers include tree or plant pollen in the spring and ragweed pollen in the fall. Perennial allergies, however, are found inside and can last all year long. Examples include pet hair, dust mites, and mold. Studies show that when kids develop allergies in early childhood, proper treatment can improve quality of life and reduce the number of missed school days. With allergy season underway, children who suffer from seasonal allergies can benefit greatly from a proactive approach to treatment.
Symptoms in children suffering from airborne allergies include sneezing, runny nose, coughing, itchy eyes, and nasal congestion. One of the trickiest things for parents is knowing whether the symptoms are caused by allergies, a virus, or a bacterial respiratory infection. “If the symptoms are not accompanied by a fever, and drainage from the nose and eyes is clear, it is possible that allergies are the only culprit,” Dr. Hannah Renno of Tennessee Pediatrics explained. “As pediatricians, we ask questions about when the symptoms first started and how they have progressed, which helps us determine the underlying cause. Allergies and infections can be equally uncomfortable, but it’s important to differentiate between them, so we can help parents and caregivers establish a plan of action.”
“Prevention is preferable to treatment whenever possible,” Dr. Renno continued. “Reducing exposure to the allergen is ideal, but when that’s not realistic, utilizing the right allergy medicines can significantly improve symptoms. Being proactive about treatment also reduces the likelihood that further complications will occur.”
Contrary to previous theories, many pediatricians now recommend exposing children to potential allergens – particularly food allergens — early in life as a prevention method. “I now tell my patients’ families to introduce common food allergens, such as peanut butter, as soon as their child can safely swallow it; often as early as 9 months,” said Dr. Renno. “The latest research shows more than 70% reduction in peanut allergy in kids who have been eating peanut products since infancy.”
The benefit of early exposure has also been seen with pet dander. Infants raised in a house with dogs or cats are less likely to develop allergies and asthma during childhood. Dr. Renno says that creating too sterile of an environment can have an effect on our risk for allergies as well. “Overuse of hand sanitizers and avoiding exposure to healthy microorganisms is driving up allergy rates,” said Dr. Renno. “In such cases, the body’s immune system is not able to develop properly and is instead overreacting to environmental triggers.” Dr. Renno points out, however, that exposure to another allergen–cigarette smoke–always has a negative effect on children. “Children whose parents smoke are 30% more likely to develop asthma, and are at higher risk for ear infections and recurrent respiratory infections” said Dr. Renno. “It is critical for children to be in a smoke-free environment–in the home, the car, and outside while playing.”
Allergies and asthma in children are closely linked. As many as 80% of children who have asthma are sensitized to airborne allergens. The severity of their asthma often depends on how well their allergies are controlled. “Our first job as pediatricians is to treat the acute symptoms, such as shortness of breath and wheezing,” said Dr. Frank. “The next step of treating asthma is identifying the triggers, and coming up with a prevention plan. Educating parents is a big part of the process.” The team of physicians at Tennessee Pediatrics is an important resource in dealing with allergies and asthma in children. With better symptom control, there are fewer days of missed school, more energy for being active, and an improvement in quality of life overall. Dr. Frank agrees: “We want to partner with parents to help their children stay healthy.”