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8.1 Specific advice on allergies and asthma in children: Overview




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This article is from the Children Allergies and Asthma FAQ, by Eileen Kupstas Soo kupstas@cs.unc.edu with numerous contributions by others.

8.1 Specific advice on allergies and asthma in children: Overview

Allergies can show themselves in a number of ways -- runny noses,
ear infections, digestive disorders, irritability, hyper- and hypo-
activity, and such. Adults are often more sensitive to "not feeling
right" than children are, so look for indicators such as changes in
behavior or chronic or repeated sickness the corelates to exposure
to various substances (foods, air-borne particles, chemicals, etc.).
Recurrent stomach aches, never-ending ear infections, or changes
in bowel habits may indicate that an allergy is present. In infants,
colic, formula intolerance, frequent spitting up, and
low-grade fevers can be signs of allergies. Note that allergies
may not show up at the first exposure to the allergen. Some
allergies may take repeated exposures to develop.

During pregnancy, it is possible for the mother's antibodies,
produced against allergens, to be passed in utero. This can
unknowingly sensitize the child to the mother's allergens. Though the
allergies weren't inherited, they are still "familial". As always, a
doctor's advice should be obtained as to whether or not the mother
should avoid particular foods; however, avoiding known allergens
would seem like a prudent thing to do.

For infants, breastmilk is the safest food, in terms of allergies.
Some children are allergic to cow's milk, soy formulas, and such. The
best advice is to experiment until you find what works for your
child. Some mothers report that the mother's consumption of cow's
milk will cause a reaction in a breastfed child; this has
been confirmed by medical experts, so you may need to check this if
your child is being breastfed. References for this and other issues
concerning infants are cited at the end of this section.

When a child is born, the intestinal track is not fully
developed. Some foods may cause a reaction in babies that will be
outgrown as the child matures. The safest course is to introduce new
foods one at a time over an extended period (say, one food per week)
and see if the child has an allergic reaction. Postponing the
introduction of common allergens (wheat, cow's milk, corn, eggs) and
favoring the introduction of almost-always-safe foods (rice, apples,
bananas) is one sensible approach.

Children with allergies face the same social difficulties that
grown-ups do, but with less maturity and emotional resources to
deal with them. Children find that they cannot eat what their
friends eat or cannot play outside during some seasons. Until
a child is mature enough to understand why s/he cannot do
whatever, the parent must be extra careful to help the child
through the difficulties. Start teaching your child early on
what s/he cannot eat; you will not always be able to monitor everything.

Some parents have found that by volunteering to bring food to certain
events, they can provide food the child can have. (In one book, a
mother suggested bringing an alternate birthday cake/cupcakes/treat to
a birthday party if the child is allergic to wheat, chocolate or other
common cake ingredients.) If the allergy is life threatening, the
parent must take special care to warn all adults that care for the
child about the problem. For example, peanut allergies can be quite
severe; a caretaker or neighbor could innocently offer a peanut butter
sandwich to the child without realizing the consequences. Other
allergic reactions are merely uncomfortable; in this case, the parent
and child will have to weigh the consequences of eating any particular
food vs. the freedom to do whatever.

Some parents find that it is easier to feed the whole family
the same meals, planned around the child's allergies. This
can require some initial adjustments to learn new recipes,
but then the ease of preparing only one dinner is there. Other
benefits are that the child doesn't feel isolated from the
rest of the family by a special diet.

Allergic reactions to foods can include stomach upset or
digestive upset. Children sometimes balk at eating anything
that has caused an upset. This may be a clue to the parent to
check for allergies. The parent will have to judge whether
the child is allergic, just doesn't like the food, or is
rejecting the food for any of the million reasons children
reject foods :-) As the child matures, s/he will be better
able to judge the reaction to foods as well as monitor their
food intake away from home.

Amy Uhrbach (amydane@harwood.iii.net)
Eileen Kupstas Soo (kupstas@cs.unc.edu)
Andrea Kwiatkowski (andrea@unity.ncsu.edu)
Mark Feblowitz (mdf0@shemesh.GTE.com)
Lynn Short (lfshort@europa.com)

 

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