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All About Baby Allergies And How To Prevent Them

Baby allergies are common, but not much is known about them. Learn how to spot allergies in babies and how to prevent them.

All About Baby Allergies And How To Prevent Them

Baby allergies are common, but not much is known about them. Learn how to spot allergies in babies and how to prevent them.

Baby allergies are hardly ever the “go-to conversation starter” at mom clubs and tea parties. This is because not much is known about allergies in early life.

An upper respiratory tract allergy mistakenly gets treated as the flu. Not until it recurs on numerous occasions does someone begin suspecting that it could be an allergic reaction. Here is all you need to know about baby allergies and what you can do to prevent them.

What Is An Allergy?

An allergy is a hypersensitivity reaction to a substance that the body recognizes as an allergen. This is an inappropriate response to substances that are normally found in the environment and may not elicit a similar response in others.

It is usually difficult to tell what a baby may be allergic to. Even when the parents have allergies, the baby may have a different allergy all together. It is believed that predisposition to allergies is hereditary, but specific allergies are not. As of now there is no test that can predetermine what allergies a baby may be born with. It therefore takes time to identify what allergens a baby may be sensitive to.

Allergic reactions are triggered when a baby comes into contact with an allergen either by touching, breathing or ingesting it. Some insect bites will also cause allergic reactions.

When this happens, their body senses that this is a foreign invader and initiates an immune response to fight off the allergen. The body releases histamines and other chemicals that produce symptoms that may alert you on the allergic reaction going on. The reactions can be mild or severe. Severe allergic reactions may result in anaphylactic shock which is life threatening.

Allergens That May Trigger Allergic Reactions

There are several allergens in the environment that may trigger allergic reactions in babies. The most common include:

  • Pollen
  • Mold
  • Animal dander
  • Certain foods such as eggs, milk, peanuts, and shellfish
  • Dust mites
  • Certain drugs such as penicillin

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Symptoms Of Allergic Reactions In Babies

The symptoms will vary depending on the part of the body that has been affected. Most commonly symptoms will involve the respiratory tract, gastro intestinal tract, eyes or the skin.

Respiratory tract

The respiratory tract is affected when an allergen is inhaled. The symptoms usually resemble that of a cold. It is however not difficult to differentiate the two. When a child has a cold, the mucus will be thick and colored either white or yellowish. Mucus from an allergic reaction is usually runny and clear.

In severe cases, an anaphylactic reaction may occur. This involves the airways swelling and breathing becomes difficult. When you look at the baby’s chest, you will notice indrawing as the baby struggles to breathe. This may also be accompanied by wheezing.

Babies have small respiratory passages and any small obstruction may be life threatening. Whether or not this is an allergic reaction, difficulty in breathing in babies should always be treated as a medical emergency.

Eyes

Allergic reactions may also affect the eyes; this is when the eyes come into contact with allergens. Allergic conjunctivitis in babies will cause the eyes to become red and itchy. The eyes may also tear frequently and the child may be very irritable.

However, this diagnosis should be made by a physician as the symptoms resemble those of other eye infections.

Allergic conjunctivitis rarely causes severe adverse effect apart from temporary blurriness of vision. The physician after confirming the diagnosis will give meds to relieve the symptoms and suppress the allergic reaction. It may also be helpful to identify the allergen to avoid future allergic reactions.

Skin

Most babies will have rashes on their skin at one point or the other. Common causes of rashes include heat, infant acne, wet diapers or allergic reactions. When you see a rash on a baby’s skin, know that it can be caused by different factors.

Some people confuse eczema in babies for skin allergies. Eczema is not an allergy, but some kind of eczema may flare up in the presence of allergens.

Contact dermatitis is an allergic reaction that is common in babies. It can be triggered by allergens such as wet diapers, soap, lotion, detergent, poison ivy or certain fabrics when they come in contact with the baby’s skin.

When an allergic reaction occurs in the skin, histamine is released and causes hives. Hives appears as raised patches on the skin that form clusters. This is also accompanied by dryness and itching.

Gastro intestinal tract

When allergens are ingested, they cause allergic reactions in the GI tract. Symptoms will include:

  • Hives
  • Stomach upsets
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea and vomiting.

Behavior

Babies may struggle to feed or sleep when battling allergic symptoms. They may also be irritable and display unusual behavior patterns.

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Remember that the baby is unaware of what is going on in their environment. It is up to the parent to pick out the symptoms and signs of the allergy and help their child through it.

If you suspect that your baby has an allergy, it is best to have a physician confirm this before you start them on any medication.

Treatment Of Allergies In Babies

The main goal of treatment is to limit chances of the next allergic reaction and to treat symptoms related to the allergic reaction.

  • Allergic rashes can be treated by applying 1% hydrocortisone cream to the area.
  • Antihistamines must be used following the advice of a pediatrician. The FDA has approved Zyrtec for the treatment of allergies in babies, it is available as an OTC drug and it has a good safety profile in babies.
  • Hypoallergenic moisturizers can also be used to prevent dry skin

Should the baby be in severe distress, do not attempt to self medicate the child. Rather, rush the child to the nearest hospital so that they can get help. Allergic reactions that affect the respiratory tract can cause death in babies within a very short time.

Allergic reactions may subside with time, but for as long as the baby is exposed to the allergen they will keep experiencing the same reaction.

10 Ways To Prevent Allergies In Babies

There are two approaches to preventing allergies in babies. The first approach involves removing the allergen by creating a hypo allergenic environment. The second is building the baby’s immunity against specific allergens.

Creating A Hypoallergenic Environment

Creating an environment where the baby has minimal exposure to the allergen is one way to prevent allergic episodes. If the baby is withdrawn from the allergen for more than six months, their body may forget about it. The first step however is to be able to identify the allergen that your baby is reacting to. Once this is done, you can go ahead to creating a hypoallergenic environment.

Dust Mites

  • Cover baby’s mattress with dust-mite proof covers
  • Avoid using thick carpets and rugs in the baby’s room as they can harbor dust mites
  • Dust and clean baby’s room frequently to get rid of dust

Pet pander

  • Keep pets out of the house
  • If possible, do not have pets at all

Soaps, oils and detergents

  • Use hypoallergenic soaps, oils and detergents for baby’s skin and garments. Where there is an allergic reaction, avoid using them altogether.

Food

  • Exclusively breastfeed your child for six months when possible. This helps in building their immunity and making them less susceptible to allergies.
  • When you identify foods that are allergenic to your baby, withdraw them completely from their diet
  • The hygiene hypothesis suggests that babies should not be restricted to sterile environments. Sterile environments will predispose them to allergies later in life. However, this theory has been disputed by recent research.

Mold

  • Ensure that your house is well ventilated
  • Identify areas of your home that are prone to mold and use a dehumidifier and mold-inhibiting disinfectants

Immunotherapy

This involves exposing the baby to the allergen in small doses so that the child can build immunity against the allergen. Allergy shots have to be recommended by an allergist after they determine that this is the best course of treatment for your baby. Children exposed to allergens in a mild form benefit by being able to build immunity against the allergen.

How Are Allergies Diagnosed In Babies

At home, you can do the elimination test to find out what your baby is allergic to. You withdraw possible allergens one by one until you find out what is causing the allergic reaction.

If you suspect that your baby has an allergy you should inform your pediatrician or allergist. Statistics show that if both parents have allergies, the baby has 75% chances of getting an allergy. If one parent has an allergy, the baby has 50% chance of getting an allergy.

The allergist will either do a blood or skin test to confirm what allergy the baby has. Once this is confirmed, the allergist will develop an appropriate treatment plan for your baby.

Allie Leon, Chief Fun Officer

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