Allergies in babies are complex interaction between the immature immune system, foods and environment that the child is exposed to after birth. In most cases, baby allergies are identified by skin conditions like eczema, however, an allergy can affect a baby at multiple sites of the body.
The main areas affected are usually the skin and respiratory passages, particularly the nasal lining (nose), sinuses and the bronchioles (the tiny tubes that pass air into the lung).
What is an allergy?
Simply, an allergy is the result of an overreacting immune system. The different components of our immune system, cells and compounds, are designed to assist the body in defending itself. If a foreign pathogen, like a virus, enters the body, the immune system can initiate an appropriate ‘attack’ and destroy the virus.
However in an allergy, the immune system acts inappropriately against the body’s tissues itself. Immune cells and chemicals ‘attack’ the tissues of the body, causing inflammation and resulting in a host of symptoms associated with an allergy. This is known as an immune-mediated hypersensitivity reaction.
This means that the immune system mediates an attack against the body’s tissues because it is too sensitive and overactive and is mistaking signals in the body.
What causes an allergy?
Allergies may be genetic, meaning that it is inherited from the parent, may occur due to environmental factors or arise for no known reason. Allergies are fueled by certain foods and substances in the environment but these do not cause the allergic state itself.
For example – in an allergic baby where milk products will aggravate the allergic state but it is not the cause of this hypersensitivity.
These baby allergies should not be confused with sensitivity as is seen in contact dermatitis caused by soap or perfume allergy in children, although this type of sensitivity may aggravate eczema.
What is the allergic triad of child allergy?
Children are prone to experiencing the most significant effects of an allergy, partly due to their immature immune system overreacting to ‘new’ substances. If a child is allergic, any allergen will trigger a reaction that will mobilize the immune system.
This mobilized immune system will now have to act and since there is no foreign pathogen, they attack the body’s tissues. The immune system prefers certain tissues more than others, particularly the dermis of the skin, nasal and/or bronchiole lining.
This is seen as eczema, hay fever or asthma respectively.These three conditions are referred to as the allergic triad. Hay fever or postnasal drip is at times confused with sinusitis.
A baby or toddler experiencing an allergy in the first 2 years of life will very likely continue to experience allergic symptoms for many years of childhood.
This may vary from one site to another or sometimes two, and even all three conditions (eczema, hay fever and asthma) exist simultaneously.
A child who has eczema may find that the skin condition slowly resolves but suddenly hay fever or asthma begins. At times, more than one condition may exist simultaneously – example is a baby with both asthma and eczema. As one condition subsides, but does not totally resolve, the other condition aggravates.
Trigger factors of a Baby Allergies
The most common allergens in babies and children are the following :
Ingested (Food Allergens)
- Dairy – milk and milk products.
- Egg yolk
Inhaled (Airborne Allergens)
- House dust mite
- Pollen – tree, grass and plant
Allergy Treatment & Management in Children
Avoiding these allergens or minimizing the exposure to it will drastically reduce the symptoms of any allergic condition. Anti-histamines in syrup form are usually prescribed, either on a chronic basis or for acute attacks.
In severe cases, especially in asthmatic children, corticosteroids may be prescribed to control the allergic state and prevent any sudden attack (status asthmaticus). Irrespective of the treatment, conservative management is essential and parents have to take appropriate measures to reduce the child’s exposure to the allergen.
This may mean significant changes in the diet or even the environment but without these measures, the allergy will not resolve entirely. With time, many children ‘outgrow’ allergies to some extent.
This usually occurs before the age of 10 years, although the allergic state will continue to exist for life, but to a lesser degree.
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