Childhood Allergies

An allergy is a hypersensitive reaction to a normally harmless substance.
About one in every six children in the United States is allergic to one or
more substances. There are a variety of substances, termed allergens, that
may trouble your child. Common allergens include pollen, animal dander, house
feathers, mites, chemicals, and a variety of foods. Some allergies primarily
cause respiratory symptoms; others can cause such diverse symptoms as ache,
fatigue, fever, diarrhea, stomachache, and vomiting. This entry add
respiratory allergies, both chronic and seasonal (for a discussion of
allergic reactions caused by foods, see
Food Allergies.)



A child with a respiratory allergy may have a stuffy and/or runny nose, sneezing, itchy skin and eyes, and/or red, watery eyes. Needless to say, it can be very uncomfortable. Whether the condition is seasonal or chronic depends on the particular allergen involved. Seasonal allergies tend to be caused by pollen, so symptoms recur at about the same time every year, usually when the offending plant is in bloom. Hay fever is an example of a seasonal allergy. Spring hay fever is most often due to pollens from grass and trees, while hay fever in later summer and early fall is usually caused by sensitivity to ragweed pollen and molds.


Ongoing or chronic allergies are usually caused by factors that are present
in the environment year-round, such as animal fur, dust, or feathers.
Allergic rhinitis is a chronic inflammation of the mucous membrane lining
the nasal passages that is caused by an allergic reaction. It is characterized
by a stuffy, runny nose, frequent sneezing, and a tendency to breathe through the mouth A child’s eyes may be red and watery. Headache, itchiness, nosebleeds, and fatigue may be secondary complications. Dark circles under the eyes (called “allergic shiners”), along with a puffy look to the face, are frequently seen. Infants with chronic rhinitis are frequently allergic to food, most often cow’s milk Older children with constantly runny noses are often reacting to wool, molds, feathers, dust, animal dander, and/or pollen. In some cases, a chronic runny nose may not be the result of an allergic reaction, however, and should be distinguished from a more serious underlying illness, such as chronic sinusitis. This is a task best performed by a health care professional.


Whether symptoms occur seasonally or chronically, there is often a family history of allergies; many times a parent or grandparent of an allergy sufferer also had allergies. In the presence of an allergen, a child’s immune system releases histamines and similar chemicals to fight what it perceives as an invader. These chemicals cause a string of reactions, including the swelling and congestion of nasal passages and increased mucus production. This is essentially a hypersensitive or overactive response by a child’s body to an external stimulus. A growing child becomes more capable of fighting off infections as his immune system matures, and he may also outgrow allergies.


Allergies can also contribute to other chronic health problems, such as acne, asthma, bedwetting, chronic ear infections, eczema, irritability, and even difficulty maintaining concentration. Allergic reactions can occur immediately after exposure to the offending substance, or take days to surface. A delayed allergic reaction can make it more difficult to pinpoint the allergen.



Conventional Treatment

Treatment for an allergy often begins with identifying the allergens that are causing the problem. There are several tests your physician may recommend to identify the particular allergens that are making your child’s life miserable:



  • Scratch testing consists of placing a small amount of diluted allergen on a lightly scratched area of skin. If a bump develops there within fifteen minutes, your child is probably allergic to that substance.


  • Intradermal testing is done by injecting the skin with suspected allergens at timed intervals. A control injection (one containing no allergen) is also given. If an allergen produces a wheel (a red, itchy bump), your child is allergic to that substance. An intradermal test is more accurate than a scratch test, but there is a greater risk that a child might suffer a severe reaction.


  • Blood testing (a radioallergosorbent test, or RAST) measures total and specific levels of IgE and IgG, which are antibodies produced by the body’s immune system. An elevated level of either of these may indicate an allergic reaction to the substance being tested.


Once testing has been completed, treatment may be recommended. Antihistamines are the medications most commonly used for respiratory allergies. Antihistamines work by blocking the action of chemicals called histamines, which are produced by the body in reaction to the presence of an allergen. Histamines cause swelling and congestion of nasal passages and increased mucus production. By blocking their action, antihistamines diminish allergic symptoms. Brompheniramine (in Allerhist and Dimetane, among others), diphenhydramine (Benadryl), and chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton) are common over-the-counter antihistamines suggested for respiratory allergies. Prescription antihistamines include azatadine (Optimine, Trinalin), clemastine (Tavist), astemizole (Hismanal), promethazine (Phenergan), and terfenadine (Seldane). Terfenadine and astemizole are relatively new medications that have the benefit of not causing the drowsiness that other antihistamines do. Check with your doctor before giving your child an antihistamine. Some of these medicines are not recommended for children under two years of age.


Cromolyn sodium (Intel or Nasalcrom) is a prescription medication that can be taken as a nasal spray to prevent the symptoms of respiratory allergies. It works by coating the membranes of the nose and stabilizing the white blood cells so that they do not react to foreign substances. In some cases this drug can cause gastrointestinal upset or throat and nose irritation, but it usually produces few side effects and is generally considered safe because it is minimally absorbed into the bloodstream. Its major drawback is that it must be used consistently, six times a day, for at least two weeks before it begins to take effect.


Decongestants decrease nasal congestion and swelling by constricting the blood vessels in the nasal membranes, thus allowing the mucus to drain more effectively. Decongestants are available as pills, nasal drops, and nasal sprays. These include oxymetazoline (in Afrin, Dristan, Neo-Synephrine 12 Hour, Sinex, and others), phenylephrine (in Alconefrin, Allerest, Coricidin Decongestant Nasal Mist, Neo-Synephrine, and Vacon), phenylpropanolamine (found in many common over-the-counter formulas, including Bayer Children’s Cold Tablets, Contac, Coricidin D, Ornex, Sine-Off, Sinutab, St. Joseph Cold Tablets for Children, and Triaminic), and pseudoephedrine (Cenafed, Neo-Fed, Novafed, Sudafed, or Sudrin). These medications have a number of common side effects, including restlessness and insomnia. Also, if a spray or drop form is used for more than three or four days in a row, it creates a dependency that results in a rebound—or worsening of symptoms–when the medicine is stopped. Check with your doctor before giving your child a decongestant. Some of these medicines are not recommended for children under two years of age.


An increasing trend has been to use steroid inhalant sprays such as triamcinolone (Nasacort) and beclomethasone (Beclovent, VanceriL Vancenase, or Be conase). They are especially useful for older children who suffer from chronic allergic rhinitis. These are powerful anti-innammatories, and decrease swelling and mucus production as well as the oral antihistamines do, without causing sedation. When used as nasal sprays, steroids tend to be well tolerated and safe, and they can be very effective. By contrast, nasal decongestant sprays (such as Afrin, Neo-Synephrine, and others), while highly effective for a few days, will rapidly produce dependency and should be avoided.


When antihistamines offer no relief, desensitization is sometimes recommended for the relief of allergies. This involves the injection of gradually increasing amounts of allergen into the body over a period of time. However, the procedure is complicated and costly, requires careful supervision by a physician, and is not always effective. It should be tried only in cases where no other form of treatment affords any relief.



Dietary Guidelines

Eliminate dairy foods from your child’s diet. Dairy foods can thicken mucus and stimulate an increase in mucus production. If your child’s allergies are seasonal, it may also be helpful to avoid whole wheat during the allergy season, as many children are sensitive to this food.


A child who has respiratory allergies may also be allergic to certain foods. In addition to dairy products and wheat, common culprits include eggs, chocolate, nuts, seafood, and citrus fruits and juices. Try eliminating one of these foods for a few weeks and watch for an improvement. Use an elimination or rotation diet to discover and work with food allergies (see
Elimination Diet or Rotation Diet).
Or keep a diary recording your child’s symptoms and the foods eaten.


Encourage your child to drink lots of water to thin secretions and ease expectoration.


Cut out cooked fats and oils. When your child’s body is under any type of stress, including the stress of an allergic reaction, the digestive system is not as strong as usual, and fats—which are difficult to digest at the best of times—can put a strain on the digestive system. Also, undigested fats contribute to mucus production and foster a toxic internal environment.



Nutritional Supplements

For age-appropriate dosages of nutritional supplements, see Dosage Guidelines for Herbs and Nutritional Supplements.


Beta-carotene is used by the body to make vitamin A. It also heals and soothes irritated mucous membranes. If your child’s allergies are chronic, try giving him one dose of beta-carotene, twice a day, for two to three months. If his allergies are seasonal, give your child one dose of beta-carotene a day during the allergy season.


Bioflavonoids are potent anti-inflammatories with specific antiallergenic effects. They are chemically related to cromolyn sodium (discussed on page 90, under Conventional Treatment). They are best taken with vitamin C. Give your child one dose, three times a day, for two weeks.


Calcium and magnesium are important nutrients for the allergy sufferer. They help to relax an overreactive nervous system. Give your child one dose of a supplement containing 250 milligrams of calcium to 125 milligrams of magnesium, twice a day, while symptoms are acute. Then give the same dosage, once a day, for two months.


Essential fatty acids, such as those found in evening primrose, borage, black currant, and flaxseed oils, help to regulate the inflammatory response. You can give your child one or more of these oils either in capsule form or mixed into food such as salad dressing or butter. Follow dosage directions on the product label and give your child one dose of evening primrose oil, borage oil, black currant oil, or flaxseed oil, three times a day, for two weeks. Then give your child the same dose, once a day, for one month.


Note: Evening primrose oil should not be given to a child who has a fever.


Selenium is an antioxidant and works synergistically with vitamin E. Give a child over fourteen years of age 50 micrograms a day during the allergy season.


The B vitamins help to support adrenal function and strengthen the immune system. For seasonal allergy symptoms, give a child over twelve a B-vitamin complex supplement each day (between or before meals) for two to three months.


Vitamin C, preferably in mineral ascorbate form with bioflavonoids, has anti-inflammatory properties. During acute flareups, give your child one dose, four times a day, for three to four days. Follow this with one dose, twice a day, for two to three weeks; then give your child one dose, once a day, for one month.



Herbal Treatment

For age-appropriate dosages of nutritional supplements, see
Dosage Guidelines for Herbs and Nutritional Supplements.


Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceous) is a Chinese herb that helps to strengthen the overall constitution. Give your child one dose daily for one month before the hay fever season.


Note: This herb should not be given if a fever or any other signs of infection are present.


If your child suffers from chronic allergies, give him one dose of an echinacea and goldenseal herbal combination formula, two to three times daily, for five to seven days to strengthen his immune system.


Note: You should not give your child echinacea on a daily basis for more than ten days at a time, or it will lose its effectiveness.


Prepare a fenugreek and thyme tea. These herbs act as a mild decongestant to relieve nasal and sinus congestion. Give your child one dose of tea, twice daily, as needed.


Garlic has antibacterial properties that are beneficial in healing a chronic runny nose. Choose an odorless form, and give your child one capsule, twice daily. It can be taken in whole capsule form, or you can open a capsule and dissolve the liquid in warm water or soup.


Licorice root has a strengthening effect on the adrenal glands. Give your child one dose daily for two weeks before the hay fever season. Licorice and astragalus can easily be combined.


Note: This herb should not be given to a child with high blood pressure.


Ma huang is the original source of the decongestant pseudoephedrine (better known as Sudafed), and it is effective in relieving nasal congestion. Give your child one dose in tea form, twice a day, for up to three days.


Note: This herb can stimulate the nervous system, causing an increased heart rate and agitation. Do not give it to a child under thirteen, and do not give it after 3:00 PM.


Minor bupleurum helps to strengthen the immune system. For chronic allergies, give your child one dose, twice daily, for two weeks out of every month. Continue this regimen for three months.


Note: Minor bupleurum should not be given to a child with a fever or any other sign of an acute infection.


Nettle can be very helpful for drying out the sinuses. It can be highly effective for chronic allergies (allergic rhinitis), especially when taken in freeze-dried form. Give your child one dose, three times daily, for three to four days.


Note: Some children experience stomach upset as a result of taking nettle. If this happens, stop giving the herb. This herb should not tee given to a child under four.



Homeopathy

Homeopathy can work simply and effectively in resolving allergy symptoms. Select a symptom~-specific remedy and, unless otherwise specified, give your child one dose, three times daily, for three days. If there is no improvement, try another remedy. If you do notice an improvement, discontinue the remedy and watch to see your child’s response. If the symptoms return, resume giving your child one dose, three times daily, for another two days. If the problem is not resolved, it maybe helpful to consult a homeopathic practitioner who can prescribe a constitutional remedy.


Allium cepa 30x or 9c is good for the child who experiences bouts of sneezing with a burning sensation in the nose that affects the upper lip, and whose symptoms improve in the outdoors or if he splashes his face with cold water. Allium cepa is homeopathic onion. It is for an allergic reaction similar to one’s reaction to cutting or peeling an onion—red, teary eyes, for example.


Ammonium muriaticum 30x or 9c is for the child with a watery discharge that burns the upper lip and inside of the nose. There is a feeling ‘that the nose is stopped up even though there is a flowing nasal discharge. This child will lose his sense of smell, and may also experience a tickling feeling in his throat.


Arsenicum album 30x or 9c helps the child who is sneezing, with nasal burning, and who feels better with hot compresses on the sides of his nose and when breathing into a warm humidifier. Restlessness, fatigue, cold hands and feet, and waking in the night with great distress are symptoms of the Arsenicum child. Often he will not only have allergies to dust and mold, but will be highly sensitive to cats as well. This child may also have food allergies to milk, wheat, or sugar, and be high-strung.


CaIcarea carbonica 30x or 9c benefits the child who is pale and sweats alot, especially around the head, and is sensitive to drafts. Swollen glands may accompany this child’s runny nose. He may have digestive problems as well. This child may have gone through teething and/or reamed to walk later than friends or siblings.


Euphrasia 30x or 9c, which is homeopathic eyebright, is good for the child with burning tears and a nonacrid nasal discharge. Often this child will develop conjunctivitis along with his allergies. He is very sensitive to light and prefers to stay indoors in a dimly lit room.


Give Hydrastis 12x or 6c to the child who has a thick yellow or yellow-green discharge from the nose. Very often mucus will form crusts around this child’s nose. Hydrastis is homeopathic goldenseal.


Natrum muriaticum 12x or 6c is for the child who complains that the inside of his runny nose hurts or burns. This child will have thick mucus, may have a sore or pustule between his nose and upper lip, and his lips will be dry and cracked. He likes—perhaps even craves—salty foods.


Pulsatilla 30x or 9c will help the child who feels much worse in a stuffy room and better in the cool, open air. This child prefers to sleep with his window open. His nasal passages are congested and dry at night, with a nonirritating yellow discharge during the day. This child often has a fair complexion, blond or light brown hair, and blue eyes. children are good-natured, compliant, and adhering, of course, when they suffer with allergies. Pulsatilla is homeopathic windflower (anemone). Por the child whose moods and symptoms change like the wind, homeopathic windflower works wonders.


Sabadilla 30x or 9c is helpful for the child who experiences spasmodic sneezing with a lot of nasal discharge and a peculiar itching of the nose and soft palate. This child will want to scratch his upper palate. Exposure to flowers often increases the itching and sneezing.


If your child has had a runny nose since receiving a vaccination, give him Thaja 30x or 9c, twice a day, for two days. This is for a child who is sensitive to cold and humidity, and has a tendency to develop warts.


If none of the above remedies seems to match your child’s situation, there are homeopathic combination formulas available that may be useful.



Acupressure

For the locations of acupressure points on a child’s body, see
Administering an Acupressure Treatment.


Four Gates helps to calm the nervous system.


Gallbladder 20 helps to relieve head congestion.


Large Intestine 4 helps to relieve head congestion.


Large Intestine 11 reduces the severity of allergic reactions.


Large Intestine 20 clears the nose and decreases sinus congestion.



General Recommendations

A child over twelve can take pantothenic acid (Vitamin Bs) during the hay fever season to prevent the onset of allergies (you can also try giving it during an attack to help lessen the symptoms). Give your child 100 milligrams, three times a day, for three to four weeks.


Choose and administer an appropriate homeopathic remedy.


Give your child nettle to relieve sinus symptoms.


Give your child vitamin C with bioflavonoids, beta-carotene, garlic, and evening primrose oil.


Saline nasal irrigations are valuable for a child
with a chronic runny nose. Use the procedure described under
NASAL SALINE FLUSH, and suck out the mucus with a bulb syringe.


Because allergy symptoms can take a wide variety of forms, from headaches to bedwetting, you may wish to consult other entries in this book that address your child’s particular symptoms.



Prevention

If possible, keep your child from coming into contact with plants that cause an allergic reaction, especially during their pollination seasons.


If animal dander causes a reaction, keep pets outside. Above all, do not let them inside an allergic child’s bedroom.


If your child suffers from chronic allergies, look for environmental factors that may be contributing to the problem. Eliminate all possible allergens, such as dust, molds, cigarette smoke, and wood smoke. It may be necessary to eliminate feather pillows and household items that collect and hold dust, such as stuffed animals, rugs, draperies, and even upholstered furniture.


Check for and eliminate foods that may be the source of a hypersensitivity or allergic reaction.


Give your child astragalus to strengthen his immune system.


Visit a homeopath for a constitutional remedy for your child.


Provide your child with a smoke-free environment. If you smoke, please quit. Children with allergies are especially vulnerable to the effects of secondhand smoke. Wood stoves can also be a source of respiratory irritation.










Dosage Guidelines
Diet
Herbal Medicine
Homeopathy
Bach Flowers
Acupressure



From Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child by Janet Zand, N.D., L.Ac., Robert Rountree, MD, Rachel Walton, RN, ©1994. Published by Avery Publishing, New York. For personal use only; neither the digital nor printed copy may be copied or sold. Reproduced by permission.

Janet Zand LAc OMD Written by Janet Zand LAc OMD

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