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Pediatrics - Allergies 

Introduction
An allergic reaction occurs when the immune system overreacts to a normally non-threatening substance.  There are many types, causes, and symptoms of allergic reactions.  Different areas of the body can be affected depending on the allergic trigger.  Symptoms can range from mild to severe.  Some allergic reactions can be life threatening and require emergency medical attention.  Allergy treatments include avoiding what triggers the allergic reaction, medications, and desensitizing shots.

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Anatomy
Your child's immune system normally fights germs to keep her healthy.  If your child has allergies, her immune system overreacts to fight ordinary substances that normally are not harmful, such as pollen or certain foods.  The substances that trigger an allergic reaction are called allergens.
 
When your child is exposed to an allergen, her white blood cells produce antibodies.  The antibodies trigger the release of chemicals and hormones called mediators.  Mediators, such as histamine, cause the symptoms of an allergic reaction. 

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Causes
In some cases, allergies run in families.  Some children with allergies may have no family history at all.  Children with certain medical conditions,  including asthma, lung problems, nasal polyps, eczema, and frequent ear, respiratory tract, or nasal sinus infections, more commonly suffer allergies.  Foods, pets, dust, plants, cold air, medications, peanuts, grass, and latex—anything can be an allergen. 

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Symptoms
The type of allergy symptoms that your child has depends on the allergen and the area of his or her body that the allergen affects.  For instance, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, rashes, redness, shortness of breath, wheezing, and coughing can all be allergic reactions.
 
Sudden, rapid, and severe allergic reactions can cause a potentially life-threatening condition called anaphylaxis.  If you suspect that your child is experiencing anaphylaxis, you should call an ambulance immediately. 
 
A sign of anaphylaxis is shock.  Shock consists of low blood pressure, pale or red skin color, sweaty or dry skin, and anxiousness.  People may be unable to breathe.  Anaphylaxis can lead to unconsciousness, heart attack, and even death. 

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Diagnosis
Your doctor can diagnose allergies or your child may be referred to a doctor that specializes in allergies.  Your doctor will ask you a series of questions regarding your child's symptoms and exposure to allergens.  An allergist can perform a scratch test to find out what your child is allergic to and how severe your child's allergic reaction is. 

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Treatment
Your child can avoid allergic reactions by avoiding the allergens that trigger them.  Your child may not be able to avoid all allergens.  Your doctor can recommend medications to relieve symptoms.  Allergy shots can make your child's immune system less sensitive to allergens, which can help to reduce symptoms.  It may be advisable to carry emergency medication with you to use in case of a severe allergic reaction.

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Prevention
Your child should wear a Medical Alert bracelet or necklace  indicating the type of allergy that he or she has.  In the case of an emergency, the Medical Alert information will be helpful to the healthcare professionals treating your child.  Because the medical complications associated with some types of allergies can be very serious and life threatening, it is helpful for parents of children with allergies to inform their child's school and friends of what the child is allergic to and what should be done in the case of an emergency.  Your doctor can make helpful recommendations specific to your family to decrease exposure to allergens.

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Am I at Risk

Is My Child at Risk?

Risk factors may increase the likelihood of your child developing allergies, although some children that develop the condition do not have any risk factors.  You should tell your doctor about your child’s risk factors and discuss your concerns. 

Risk factors for allergies:

_____ Many allergies are inherited.  If a child's parents or close relatives have allergies, a child has an increased risk for developing them.
_____ If children have one allergic trigger, they are more likely to have another. 
_____ Children may be at risk for allergies if they have certain medical conditions including asthma, eczema, and nasal polyps.
_____ Frequent ear, respiratory, and sinus infections are associated with an increased risk of allergies.
_____ If your child has sensitive skin he or she may have an increased risk for allergies.

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Complications
Anaphylactic shock is a severe allergic reaction that can be fatal.  If left untreated, anaphylactic shock can cause unconsciousness, heart attack, and death.

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Advancements
Researchers are continually studying methods to prevent and treat allergies.  In recent studies, researchers suggest that babies that are breast fed, experience a fever before they are one year old, and have certain environmental exposures are less likely to develop allergies as they grown older.  As researchers gather more information, they hope to make general recommendations for all children.

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This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

The iHealthSpot patient education library was written collaboratively by the iHealthSpot editorial team which includes Senior Medical Authors Dr. Mary Car-Blanchard, OTD/OTR/L and Valerie K. Clark, and the following editorial advisors: Steve Meadows, MD, Ernie F. Soto, DDS, Ronald J. Glatzer, MD, Jonathan Rosenberg, MD, Christopher M. Nolte, MD, David Applebaum, MD, Jonathan M. Tarrash, MD, and Paula Soto, RN/BSN. This content complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information. The library commenced development on September 1, 2005 with the latest update/addition on April 13th, 2016. For information on iHealthSpot’s other services including medical website design, visit www.iHealthSpot.com.