Allergies in Children: Symptoms, Triggers, and Management

07 May 2019

Article by: Dr Lim Wei Leng, Consultant Paediatrician & Neonatologist

Understanding Allergies in Children

An allergy occurs when the body overreacts to a substance or ‘trigger’ that is typically harmless to most people. Such triggers are called allergens. Different people are allergic to different allergens. Why this is so is still not totally understood.

The Prevalence of Allergies Among Children

It is estimated that up to a quarter of the population suffer from some form of allergy and children constitute about half of all people with allergy. Scientifically speaking, allergy is the result of mistaken identity. An allergen enters the body and is mistakenly identified by the immune system as alien or potentially harmful substance. The immune system then mounts a response to attack the allergen. It is the effect of such an immune response that gives rise to the symptoms of allergy.

Symptoms of Allergies in Children

Symptoms of allergies are many and variable. A lot of the symptoms are not very specific and can also be present in other non-allergic illnesses. Common allergy symptoms in children include

  • Skin rashes (eczema or atopic dermatitis), hives (urticarial).
  • Upper respiratory symptoms – sneezing, runny nose, coughing, watery and itchy eyes.
  • Breathing problems such as chest tightness, wheezing (asthma).
  • Gastro-intestinal symptoms – Abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Symptoms of allergies ranges from mild to severe and can be acute (sudden) or chronic (long-standing). The most severe form is anaphylaxis and results in collapse of the respiratory and cardiovascular systems and may cause death without prompt treatment.

Common Triggers of Allergies In Children

There are countless substances that can cause allergy to different people. Common allergens include

  • Food – milk and milk products, peanuts, eggs, seafood.
  • Indoor – pet or animal fur or hair, house dust mites, moulds.
  • Outdoor – insect bites or stings, pollen from plant and grass.
  • Medicines – include prescription drugs, over-the-counter remedies and herbal medicines
  • Irritants – Cigarette smoke, perfumes, household chemical, rubber.

Management and Treatment of Allergies in Children

The symptoms of allergies are so wide and variable that is it imperative for parents not to self-diagnose their children and start their own medications without consulting a doctor. If your child suffer from any of the above symptoms or you suspect your child may be allergic to something, bring your child to see your general practitioner, paediatrician or allergy specialist. In most cases, there are effective medications to manage the allergy symptoms so that your child will be comfortable again. In many cases, attempts may be made to try to identify the allergen. In some cases, this may be straight forward.

In others, special tests such as skin prick tests and blood tests may be necessary. Sometimes, more than one allergen may be found. In established cases of allergy, avoidance of allergen will improve symptoms, although this may not be possible in all cases. More complicated or life-threatening cases may need special treatment regimen to prevent future episodes of allergy. If your child has a specific allergy, it is important to let the school, other caregivers and health professionals be aware of his or her allergy.