Little boy sneezing

What causes allergies in children?

Children with allergies face many challenges. The many symptoms of allergies such as sneezing, itching, wheezing, coughing and fatigue can cause a lot of frustration for them – as well as their parents! Some children may have allergies that are barely noticeable apart from a mild runny nose now and then. Other children can have severe allergies that greatly impact their daily life. Certain things can make symptoms flare up, like sudden weather changes and windy days.1 Learning about the common triggers for your child’s allergies can help you to identify and then avoid them where possible. This can help give your child back their quality of life.

Why do some kids get allergies and others don’t?

Children with allergies have an immune system that has at some point become overactive to a substance that is harmless to most other people. These substances are known as ‘allergens’ and there are many common culprits. The immune system of a child with allergies treats the allergen like an invader and overreacts. To try and protect their body, their immune system produces antibodies, known as immunoglobulin E (IgE). These antibodies then cause chemicals such as histamine to be released into the bloodstream to defend against the invading ‘allergen.’ It is the excess histamine produced by the immune system which results in the symptoms of allergies.2,3 If your child is exposed to the same allergen in the future, an allergic response will be triggered again.

That’s why it’s helpful to work out exactly what is triggering the allergy so that you can avoid it as much as possible.

What are the most common triggers for allergy?

Some of the most common triggers for allergies in your children are carried through the air, or airborne:

  • Dust mites – these are one of the most common causes of year round allergies and are found in bedding, upholstery and carpets. Dust mites are so small we are unable to see them with the human eye and they live all around us, feeding on the dead skin cells that fall off our bodies. These microscopic insects are the main allergic component of house dust.
  • Pollen –This type of allergy is seasonal which means the type of pollen your child is allergic to determines when their symptoms will occur. Allergies to pollen, also known as hayfever, are more common in Spring and on windy days.
  • Mould – these fungi thrive inside and outside in warm and moist environments. Mould can cause year round allergies but tend to be more common in hot and humid seasons. A musty odour is a clue that there is excess mould growth in your home. Mould tends to thrive in bathrooms, basements or under kitchen sinks as well as compost piles and poor drainage areas.
  • Animals and pets – tiny flakes of shed skin also known as pet dander, can trigger allergies in some children. Animal saliva and urine can also be allergens. This is why many people have cat allergies, as cats tend to lick themselves a lot while grooming.
  • Cockroaches – these are a major allergen particularly in cities. It is thought that the high rates of asthma in inner-city children may be related to the cockroach infested buildings.3

Other triggers for allergies in children can be food related. Eight foods account for most of the food allergies. Common food allergens in children include:

  • Cow’s milk – many children are allergic to the protein in cow’s milk. Fortunately many kids outgrow this allergy.
  • Eggs – unfortunately eggs are in many of the foods that kids like to eat as “hidden” ingredients. Fortunately kids often grown out of egg allergies.
  • Fish and shellfish – having an allergy to fish does not necessarily mean an allergy to shellfish as they are from different families of food. This food allergy sticks around and is not usually outgrown.
  • Peanuts and tree nuts – peanuts are actually a legume, not a true nut. This is becoming a common food allergy in kids and can be a serious one. Tree nuts such as almonds, walnuts, pecans and hazelnuts are also common. Nut allergies do not tend to be outgrown.
  • Soy – this food allergy is more common with babies than older children. Soy is often a “hidden” ingredient in prepared foods.
  • Wheat – the protein from wheat is found in many foods. Wheat allergy is not the same as celiac disease. Like all allergies, an allergy to wheat can make your child feel unwell but can also give severe life threatening reactions. Celiac disease is caused by a sensitivity to gluten, which is found in wheat, rye and barley. It damages the small intestines and can also make your child feel very unwell.3

Other common allergens in children are insect stings where there is an insect venom allergy. Also some chemicals may cause allergies. Common culprits are those found in laundry detergents and household cleaners. Some medicines, such as antibiotics may also cause allergies.3

Discuss with your healthcare professional about the allergy symptoms your child is experiencing to determine what kind of treatment would be best for them.

For more information, visit Telfast’s Break Through page.