by Frederick M. Schaffer, M.D, Chief Medical Officer of United Allergy Services
The start of spring may be bad news for the over 60 million seasonal allergy sufferers in the U.S., but allergies among children are the most worrisome - they are largely responsible for the growing number of children suffering from asthma. An estimated 6.5 million Americans under the age of 18 suffer from asthma, making it the most common chronic illness in childhood.# It is the main reason children miss school and the leading cause of childhood hospitalization.#
Despite the wreckage that asthma wreaks on children, many parents miss a major opportunity to prevent asthma: treat childhood allergies. With increased or repeated exposure to allergens, an allergic child’s disorders can expand to develop and include allergic asthma. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, half of the 20 million Americans with asthma have allergic asthma, in which asthmatic exacerbations are triggered by allergen exposures.
As allergy symptoms generally precede an uptick in childhood asthma symptoms, speak with your child’s pediatrician about available treatment options when you observe typical allergy symptoms in your child. Symptoms and patterns to look out for include:
- A runny nose or itchy eyes that is particularly prevalent when your child is around certain plants or pets at home
- A runny nose or itchy eyes continuously in the spring
- A runny nose or itchy eyes that seems to be alleviated by Benadryl or other antihistamines
- Symptoms of atopic dermatitis (eczema), including itchy, dry or cracked skin
For children that already suffer from asthma, asthma symptoms that are particularly prevalent during certain times of the year, occur upon exposure to certain pets, occur during days of high pollen counts, or occur when in bedrooms or near carpets (dust mite exposure) may also suggest allergic asthma.
The first line of defense in treating your child’s allergies and allergic asthma includes identifying the specific allergens your child is allergic to. The easiest way to determine this is through a simple skin scratch test. Once your child’s allergies have been identified, avoiding those substances and aggressively treating them will reduce both allergy and allergic asthma symptoms over time.
Medications, including antihistamines, can mask allergy symptoms for either four to six hours or up to 24 hours, depending on the medication selected. Many pediatricians will recommend that children with the most severe symptoms take medications daily during allergy season or even year round.
The only permanent treatment for seasonal allergies (that addresses their underlying cause) is immunotherapy (allergy shots). Immunotherapy can also prevent the development of new allergies and the progression of allergies to asthma in children. In the past, parents have been limited to accessing allergy shots for their children through allergists, who make up a very small specialist community and are often hard to schedule an appointment with.
A growing number of pediatricians have started delivering allergy testing and immunotherapy to children directly through their practices with the help of United Allergy Services, a healthcare services organization that provides pediatricians with a fully-staffed and operational allergy lab that, under the authority of the pediatrician, tests patients for allergies and develops customized immunotherapy.
Whether you choose to treat your child’s allergy symptoms with over-the-counter medications or with allergy shots, speaking with your child’s pediatrician about the symptoms you are observing is important for both treating your child’s allergies and preventing the progression of those allergies into allergic asthma.