Colds, ear infections, and trouble sleeping. These are all things children experience from time to time. However, if they are frequent, or if these symptoms occur together regularly, it’s possible that allergies are an underlying factor.
Allergies are not all black and white, meaning someone either has them or they don’t. Allergies can change and develop over time, and some may even go away on their own. The severity of allergic response also varies from person to person. Research has shown us that there is a genetic, as well as environmental, component to the development of allergies. Children who are male, firstborn, or whose parents have allergies are more likely to have allergies themselves. Those children with eczema and food sensitivities are also predisposed to nasal allergies, presumably due to an imbalance in the immune system. Often you will see the first signs of allergies between ages 2-7, but they can develop earlier as well.
One way allergic reactions can occur is when mast cells, which populate the delicate mucosal lining of the nose and throat, are highly sensitive to otherwise benign particles of things such as pollen, dust or dander. The mast cells begin to swell and release histamine and a host of other chemicals, resulting in the symptoms we commonly see, such as swelling, sneezing, itchiness and a runny nose.
While this might be enough to scare you into keeping your children indoors, multiple studies have shown that children raised on farms, who therefore spend a lot of time around plants and animals, experience allergies far less than their peers raised in the city. Similar research dictates that the more babies can be outside in the first year, and spend time around pets, the stronger their immune systems are, and the less likely they will be to have allergies to pollen or dander, respectively. Other factors that contribute to a lower likelihood of allergies include breastfeeding, and plenty of interaction with other children, whether that is with siblings, friends or in daycare. Ironically, getting several colds early on also reduces the chance of allergies as kids grow older.
And how do we even tell the difference between a cold and allergies? The main factor is often the quality of nasal discharge. Colds often produce murky, cloudy, thicker discharge, while allergies often create a thin, clear consistency. Often an allergic reaction to the environment also includes itchy, watery eyes, and perhaps a dry cough. Your child may also tend to wrinkle up their nose or sneeze as a reaction to the itchiness.
If allergies are a problem in your household, don’t despair. There are ways to treat them so they are less of a nuisance. Shedding a light outer layer of clothing when children come inside can be helpful, as well as washing the hands and face to help clear the eyes and nose of pollen. Air filters in the house can also reduce the amount of offending particles floating about. Using a gentle, natural eye wash can soothe itchy eyes. For some children, a netti pot can help clear the nose and sinuses. With a little care and maintenance, your little one can enjoy pets and plants with the rest of their friends!
Stay tuned for our upcoming podcast on allergies!