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INFORMATION ABOUT BABY ALLERGIES

INFORMATION ABOUT BABY ALLERGIES
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According to the media, allergies are on the increase and are reaching almost epidemic proportions. Around one third of the population now has an allergy of some sort.

An allergy is a reaction caused when your immune system overreacts to certain harmless substances (allergens) and attacks it with an antibody causing an allergic reaction such as itching, a rash or swelling. The most common allergens are:

  • Household chemicals - like air fresheners.
  • House dust mites.
  • Pollen from trees and weeds.
  • Moulds.
  • Pet hair.
  • Foods such as eggs or milk.

The most common allergies in babies are asthma and eczema with around one fifth of babies suffering from either or both. This is often hereditary, so expect your child to be affected if either of the parents suffer from allergies.

Eczema
There are two types of eczema :

  1. Infantile seborrheoic eczema which shows as a greasy, scaly rash and affects around half of all babies under twelve months. It doesn't usually need treatment and will go away by the time she is one.
  2. Atopic eczema makes the skin dry, inflamed and flaky. It is treated with steroid creams and antihistamins to soothe the skin. Try to keep the outbreaks to a minimum by:
  • Vacuuming every day to reduce dust mites.
  • Dress her in cotton clothing and use cotton bedding.
  • Use a non-bio washing powder.
  • Keep her finger nails short and use scratch mittens at night to stop her scratching the rash.
  • There is a good chance your child's atopic eczema will clear up in her early teens.

Asthma
This can be frightening for both you and the child. Asthma is usually caused by an allergic reaction that swells the airways making it difficult for the child to breathe, although it can also be caused by a cold or virus. You can help to reduce the severity and frequency of attacks by:

  • Not using air fresheners and similar household chemicals
  • Stopping smoking.
  • Vacuuming daily to reduce house dust mites. Also vacuum curtains and bedding, and try to keep cuddly toys out of the bedroom.
  • Not keeping pets if there is a family history of animal allergies.
  • Breastfeeding for the first six months if at all possible. This will give your child some antibodies not found in formula milk.

Diagnosing baby asthma can be difficult because other problems produce similar symptoms. The pediatrician will do a careful examination of the child, and will ask the parents a number of questions before stating that the infant is suffering from asthma. He will need a description of all the symptoms the parents have witnessed, and will ask if they know what triggers the symptoms or what makes them worse. He will want a list of medications tried, and whether or not they helped. Knowledge of a family history of allergies or asthma will be helpful. Asthma does seem to run in families.

Treatment
Asthma is usually treated with a steroid inhaler, also known as a puffer. Young children cannot use a puffer, instead they have a 'spacer', a transparent container through which the puffer is squirted into one end and the child inhales the vapour through the other. There are two types of puffer, a 'preventer' taken daily to prevent an attack; and a 'reliever' which, as the name suggests, is used when the child is having an attack. With asthma too there is a good chance the allergy will disappear as the child grows up.

There are two groups of asthma medications: Quick relief medications and controller medications. Quick-relief meds are those mentioned above, designed for short-term use to open up narrow breathing passages and help relieve wheezing and breathlessness. Controller meds reduce the number of days or nights a child has symptoms, and are not used for relief of symptoms. Babies with symptoms more than twice a week or who wake up more than twice per month should be controller medications. Inhaled corticosteroids are the preferred controller medication for all ages. They are safe for most children.

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