If you’re a kid who suffers from allergies, it might make you feel better to know that you are not alone! As a matter of fact, it is estimated that around 50 million kids across the country have allergies — and that these allergies are responsible for around 2 million missed days of school every single year.  Those are some pretty big numbers!

If you want to learn more about your allergies, read on!

What is an Allergy?

In order to understand allergies, you have to understand your immune system.  This system is meant to be the body’s defense against things that can make it sick — like bacteria, viruses or fungi.  Without this immune system, the body would be under constant attack from invading microorganisms and you would get sick a lot!

However, sometimes your immune system can be a little too eager to guard you — and can overreact when it comes into contact with things like pollen or mold.  These things are called allergens. The antibodies, which are an important part of the body’s immunity, react to allergens by causing special cells called basophils and mast cells to release chemicals called histamines.  The histamines are what cause the uncomfortable signs and symptoms that happen during an allergy attack.

Who is at Risk?

While any kid can be born with allergies, kids who have a family history of allergies or have other health problems like asthma are at a higher risk for developing allergies.

On the other hand, kids whose moms breastfed them, especially with the colostrum, or first breast milk, are known to have stronger immune systems and are less likely to have allergies.

What are the Symptoms of an Allergy Attack?

Not all kids will have all the symptoms of an allergy attack, but the most common ones include:

  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Itchy nose
  • Runny or congested nose
  • Postnasal drainage
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Nausea and/or vomiting

In other words, these allergy attacks can make you feel pretty miserable!

Most allergy symptoms are mild, if annoying to deal with. However, the symptoms of anaphylaxis, a rare but serious kind of allergy attack, can be likewise more serious.  To learn more about it, read our article on Anaphylaxis.

How are Allergies Diagnosed?

If your doctor suspects that you have allergies, he or she will ask you and your parents about what your symptoms are, what seems to make them worse or better and also about your family history.   Testing will also be done to determine what exactly it is that you are allergic to.  This can be done by injecting small amounts of allergens just under your skin, or applying a small amount of the allergen to the skin and then pricking it with a pricking device.  Either way, the doctor will examine it around 15 minutes later and if there is redness or swelling around the site of the injections/skin pricks, these signs are an indication that you have an allergy.

In short, diagnosis will be based on a combination of the skin test and on your signs and symptoms.

How Do You Treat Allergies?

There are several different ways of treating allergies. These include:

  • Identifying your allergens — and then avoiding them
  • Use of antihistamines like Benedryl to help control the signs and symptoms
  • Use of nasal sprays or eye drops
  • Immunotherapy, or allergy shots which help to gradually build up your immunity and decrease your allergy symptoms. Usually doctors will only do this if other treatments are not working.

What are Common Allergens?

While every kid is allergic to different things, there are some common allergens that many kids are sensitive to.  The most common allergens include:

  • Dust mites
  • Pet dander
  • Pollen
  • Mold
  • Cockroaches
  • Certain foods (the most likely foods are nuts, milk, wheat, eggs and shellfish)

How Can You Avoid these Allergens?

Identifying your allergens is really important because if you don’t know what they are, you can’t avoid them!  Here are some general rules about avoid allergens:

  • Keep the house clean and remove carpets, heavy curtains and other sources of dust; dust and vacuum often.
  • Washing bedding and sheets weekly and put hypoallergenic covers on sheets and pillowcases.
  • If pets are a problem, keep them outdoors or consider getting a pet like a turtle or fish that will not cause allergic reactions
  • Consider buying a HEPA filter, which will take dust and other allergens out of the air and make it easier to breathe
  • If food allergies are a problem, those foods must be strictly avoided

In short, although allergies are a pain, there are ways to control them, to decrease your symptoms and still be able to do the things that you enjoy like playing outside!