By Vanessa Rasmussen, © 2004, All rights reserved.

An estimated 40-45 million Americans (15-20% of the population) have some type of allergy and, in most people; these allergies first appear during infancy or childhood. Allergies are the leading cause of poor health in children.

The tendency to develop allergies is inherited from parents. If one parent is allergic (has hay fever or allergic asthma) the chance of a child having allergies is about 40 percent. If both parents are allergic, the chance increases to nearly 75 percent. In some cases, there is no evidence of a hereditary nature of the allergy.

Children's allergies can make life miserable. They are caused by many different factors, from pet hair to pollen and dust. Children's allergies can cause runny noses, itchy eyes and bouts of sneezing, not to mention throat irritation.

The following are some pointers on potential problem spots for children with allergies and quick tips to help children and their parents effectively manage allergies.

  • If allergy to foods such as milk, eggs or peanuts is suspected, testing can be done by skin or blood tests at any age. Skin testing can also be done for asthma and hay fever. The need for testing depends on the extent and severity of the symptoms.
  • Ninety-five percent of children's food allergies are due to cow's milk protein, egg whites, wheat proteins, soy beans, shellfish, fish, peanuts, and tree nuts (like walnuts). Other common allergens include corn, peanut butter, citrus fruits, chocolate, and food additives.
  • Allergies often cause nasal congestion which hampers breathing patterns of children leading to various other defects. Early treatment of the allergies causing the nasal congestion may prevent these problems.
  • Some of a child's first allergens are milk and other food products as well as indoor allergens such as pets, household dust mites, and molds.
  • Once a child gets older, exposure to outside allergens, like tree pollen, weeds, or grasses, increases their chance for seasonal allergies because they spend more time outdoors.
  • Sometimes allergic children are overactive which takes a toll on their schoolwork. When a child's allergies are properly treated, symptoms, behavior and school performance can improve.
  • There are a number of OTC antihistamines available in the market which can be given to children. Make sure that you don't exceed the recommended dosage and age appropriate medicine is given. Some of these drugs might have a sedative effect on children.

Remember, there are three basic steps in dealing with any children's allergies:

  • Identify the cause of allergy
  • Avoid the relevant allergens
  • Treat the symptoms

Copyright 2001, 2004. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article in whole or in part without written or verbal permission is strictly prohibited. For information about reprinting this article, contact the copyright owner: Vanessa Rasmussen, Ph.D, Starting a Day Care Center,