Father walking with daughter in the park

How to explain allergies to children

The way allergies and the immune system work is complicated, so it can be tricky to explain to your child what is happening to their body when they have allergies. Each child is different and there are many different allergic conditions with the most common ones being food allergies, eczema and hayfever. These answers to common questions from kids with allergies may help you explain all about allergies to your child:

What is happening to me?

Your immune system protects and defends your body from all sorts of things, like colds, germs and diseases. An allergy is when your immune system overreacts to ordinary things. This causes a reaction known as an allergic reaction which can be sneezing, watery eyes, runny nose, itching, skin rashes and hives. It is different for every person but these are typical reactions.1

Why do I get allergies and other kids don’t?

Your body is very special and it is doing something very interesting and different, sometimes doctors can’t even quite explain it. Your body is getting the wrong signals and sees peanuts or other things that are harmless to most kids as invaders trying to start a war with your body. Your body is trying to fight it to get it out which is what makes you feel sick. Other kids’ bodies are not fighting these invaders so they may not get sick from the same things.2 Allergies in kids are often hereditary which means if you get allergies, you usually have a mum or a dad, or even a brother or sister who has some type of allergy. You can get allergies at any time from when you are a baby to a grown up. Although allergies often get a bit better as you get older.1

How do I find out if I have allergies?

If you get sick after eating some foods, or you have a runny nose all the time or itch and sneeze a lot, your mum and dad may want to take you to the doctor to check for allergies. The doctor will look for clues about which things in your home, outside, or in the foods you eat are making you sick. Your doctor may ask you to avoid certain things to see if it makes you feel any better. You may even see another special doctor called an allergist. This doctor may give you some tests which might involve taking some blood from you, or lightly scratching your skin and testing it with different things to check which one gives you a reaction. It doesn’t hurt but your skin may come up in red, bumpy spots where the doctor has put scratches on your arm. This reaction shows that you are allergic to that substance, also known as an ‘allergen’.1

What do I do if I have allergies?

Your doctor or parents will probably tell you to try to avoid what you are allergic to as much as possible. If you are allergic to things that drift through the air like pollen, dust, grass and pet fur, they may even give you a medicine called an antihistamine. This will help your body to not react as much, helping you to feel better. To help you avoid pet allergies keep your pet out of your bedroom and have someone else bathe them once a week. Keeping them outside as much as possible will help too. If dust is causing your problems, it is due to dust mites which are so small you can’t even see them. Your parents can use special covers for your beds and blankets and wash them in very hot water regularly. It also helps to keep your room nice and clean and don’t have too many stuffed animals.1

If you are allergic to some foods you will need to avoid those foods. Your parents can help you check the food labels on everything you eat. If you have a serious allergy to some foods it is important to be very careful about this.1 It helps to bring safe snacks with you to birthday parties and outings with your friends, so you don’t feel left out. Luckily many kids outgrow allergies to milk, eggs, wheat and soy. Although if you have an allergy to nuts or seafood it may stay with you throughout life.1