Allergies are common in children. It is estimated that up to 40% of children in Australia and New Zealand will be affected by allergies at some point in their lives. Most allergies are inherited, meaning they are passed on to children from their parents. When one parent has an allergy, the child has a 50% risk of also having one. When both parents are allergic, this risk increases to 75%. Although parents may pass on the tendency to be allergic, children may not inherit an allergy to the exact same allergen.
A runny nose is often the main symptom in children suffering from hayfever. It is therefore important to determine whether your child has an allergy or a cold, as the two have similar symptoms. Along with a runny nose, hayfever may also cause itchy red eyes, sneezing and dark circles under the eyes. Children may also frequently rub their nose, known as the ‘allergic salute’. Parents can help to relieve their children’s symptoms by reducing their exposure to allergy triggers as much as possible. This may include closing the windows at home and in the car to minimise pollen levels in the air, if your child has hayfever, or using an allergy proof mattress cover if he is allergic to dust mites, for example. Saline nasal washes or sprays may also help to alleviate symptoms by rinsing pollen and mucus from your child’s nose. In some cases daily medication may be necessary, especially during allergy season.
Although the reasons behind an infant or child developing an allergy are not completely understood, several factors appear to be involved. A family history of allergies in a parent or sibling is a significant risk factor, although nothing can be done to change this. There are, however, other environmental factors implicated in allergies which, if controlled, will help to minimise the risk of your child developing allergies. Factors linked to allergies include dietary factors, such as introducing your baby to cow’s milk, soy milk formula or solid foods before 3‐4 months of age. Also, babies born in spring have a higher risk of developing seasonal allergic rhinitis, or hayfever. Passive exposure to cigarette smoke also increases a child’s risk of developing allergic respiratory symptoms.
Parents can minimize the risk of their new baby developing allergies in several ways. These include avoiding smoking while pregnant and not smoking in the presence of the child once they are born. Breastfeeding has been shown to decrease the risk of allergies in early childhood and where possible, babies should be breastfed for at least six months. However, even with these steps in place, a high risk child may still develop allergies, including hayfever.
For more information, ASCIA website.