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Should Allergies Keep Your Child at Home?

Practical advice on how to keep allergies from interfering with your child’s life.
By Hilary Parker
WebMD Feature

Do your child’s allergies keep him out of school or get in the way of some family outing? Each day, 10,000 children in the United States miss school because of their allergy symptoms.

Seasonal allergies -- allergic rhinitis or hay fever -- affects roughly four out of every 10 kids living in America. The symptoms, including sneezing, a stuffy nose, and itchy, watery eyes, can have a serious impact on your child’s ability to take part in school, sports, and outings with family and friends.

Allergies are chronic. But your child doesn’t have to miss out because of them.

Mary Beth Fasano agrees. Fasano is a clinical associate professor and director of the Allergy-Immunology Training Program at the University of Iowa. She is also a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Allergy & Immunology. She tells WebMD that children with severe allergies will benefit from correct diagnosis and a good treatment plan outlined by an allergy specialist. A child will also benefit, Fasano says, from collaboration between the child, parents, teachers, and the allergy specialist. “With this approach,” she says, “children should be able to participate in school, sports, and other activities without significant limitations.”

What Causes Allergies?

An allergy occurs when the immune system reacts to a substance that is normally not harmful. For instance, it might see pollen or cat dander as a threat. When that happens, the body produces antibodies. These tell allergy-fighting cells to release chemicals, including histamine, to fight the offending substance. These chemicals then cause people to experience classic allergy symptoms, like a runny nose or a scratchy throat.

Children’s Allergies and Asthma

Many children with allergies also experience exercise-induced asthma and allergic asthma. In fact, more than 2.5 million Americans under age 18 are affected by allergic asthma. Allergic asthma occurs when breathing passages become inflamed as a result of contact with various triggers. For instance, pollen or mold might trigger an asthma episode.

If your child has allergic asthma, the symptoms can go far beyond a runny nose and watery eyes. They can include such symptoms as wheezing and shortness of breath as well as anxiety. Untreated asthma can be a very dangerous condition. It’s important to check with an allergist if your child has not been diagnosed with asthma but is having symptoms that suggest asthma.

Allergy Medicines and Treatments for Children’s Allergies

The best allergy treatment for your child depends on what kind of allergy symptoms your child has, and how severe they are. Options include a variety of over-the-counter and prescription medications. These include antihistamines, decongestants, and steroids. If your child has asthma, he or she may be treated with inhalers. These medicines provide relief by calming inflammation and opening air passages. All medications have possible side effects, so it’s important to work with your child’s doctor to find the right allergy medicines.

If the usual medications don’t provide enough relief for your child’s allergies, allergy shots --  immunotherapy -- may be considered. Allergy shots work by exposing someone to increasing amounts of an allergen, such as pollen or mold, over time. This makes the immune system less likely to react to the substance.

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