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Allergies in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Oct 31, 2022.

What are allergies?

Allergies are an immune system reaction to a substance called an allergen. Your child's immune system sees the allergen as harmful and attacks it.

What causes allergies?

Your child may have allergies at certain times of the year or all year. The following are common allergies:

  • Seasonal airborne allergies happen during certain times of the year. This is also called hay fever. Tree, weed, or grass pollen are examples of allergens that your child breathes in.
  • Environmental airborne allergy triggers your child may breathe in year-round include dust, mold, and pet hair.
  • Contact allergies include latex, found in items such as condoms and medical gloves. Latex allergies can be very serious.
  • Insect sting allergies may be caused by bees, hornets, fire ants, or other insects that sting or bite your child. Insect allergies can be very serious.
  • Food allergies in children commonly include peanuts, milk, shellfish, and eggs. Some foods must be eaten to produce an allergic reaction. Other foods can trigger a reaction if they touch your child's skin or are breathed in.

What increases my child's risk for allergies?

Allergic reactions can happen at any time, even if your child did not have allergies before. Your child may develop an allergy after he or she was exposed to an allergen more than once. Your child's risk is also increased if he or she has a family history of allergies or a medical condition such as asthma.

What are the signs and symptoms of allergies?

  • Mild symptoms include sneezing and a runny, itchy, or stuffy nose. Your child may also have swollen, watery, or itchy eyes, or skin itching. He or she may have swelling or pain where an insect bit or stung him or her.
  • Anaphylaxis symptoms include trouble breathing or swallowing, a rash or hives, or severe swelling. Your child may also have a cough, wheezing, or feel lightheaded or dizzy. Anaphylaxis is a sudden, life-threatening reaction that needs immediate treatment.

How are allergies diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider will ask about your child's signs and symptoms. He or she will ask what allergens your child has been exposed to. Tell the provider if your child has ever had other allergic reactions. He or she may look in your child's nose, ears, or throat. Your child may need more tests if he or she developed anaphylaxis after being exposed to a trigger and then exercising. This is called exercise-induced anaphylaxis. Your child may also need the following tests:

  • Blood tests are used to check for signs of a reaction to allergens.
  • Nasal tests are used to see how your child's nasal passages react to allergens. A sample of nasal fluid may also be tested.
  • Skin tests can help your child's healthcare provider find what your child is allergic to. He or she will place a small amount of allergen on your child's arm or back and then prick the skin with a needle. He or she will watch how your child's skin reacts to the allergen.

How are allergies treated?

  • Antihistamines help decrease itching, sneezing, and swelling. Your child may take them as a pill or use drops in his or her nose or eyes.
  • Decongestants help your child's nose feel less stuffy.
  • Steroids decrease swelling and redness.
  • Topical treatments help decrease itching or swelling. Your child may also be given nasal sprays or eyedrops.
  • Epinephrine is medicine used to treat severe allergic reactions such as anaphylaxis.
  • Desensitization gets your child's body used to allergens he or she cannot avoid. Your child's healthcare provider will give your child a shot that contains a small amount of an allergen. He or she will treat any allergic reaction your child has. The provider will give your child more of the allergen a little at a time until your child's body gets used to it. Your child's reaction to the allergen may be less serious after this treatment. Your child's healthcare provider will tell you how long your child will need to get the shots.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

What steps do I or my child need to take for signs or symptoms of anaphylaxis?

  • Immediately give 1 shot of epinephrine only into the outer thigh muscle.
  • Leave the shot in place as directed. Your healthcare provider may recommend you leave it in place for up to 10 seconds before you remove it. This helps make sure all of the epinephrine is delivered.
  • Call 911 and go to the emergency department, even if the shot improved symptoms. Teach your adolescent not to drive himself or herself. The used epinephrine shot should be brought to the emergency department.

What safety precautions are needed if my child is at risk for anaphylaxis?

  • Keep 2 shots of epinephrine with your child at all times. Your child may need a second shot, because epinephrine only works for about 20 minutes and symptoms may return. Your child's healthcare provider can show you and family members how to give the shot. Depending on your child's age, the provider may also teach your child how to give the shot. Check the expiration date every month and replace it before it expires.
  • Create an action plan. Your healthcare provider can help you create a written plan that explains the allergy and an emergency plan to treat a reaction. The plan explains when to give a second epinephrine shot if symptoms return or do not improve after the first. Give copies of the action plan and emergency instructions to family members, work and school staff, and daycare providers. Show them how to give a shot of epinephrine.
  • Help your child be careful when he or she exercises. If your child has had exercise-induced anaphylaxis, do not let him or her exercise right after eating. Have your child stop exercising right away if he or she starts to develop any signs or symptoms of anaphylaxis. He or she may first feel tired, warm, or have itchy skin. Hives, swelling, and severe breathing problems may develop if your child continues to exercise.
  • Have your child carry medical alert identification. Have your child wear medical alert jewelry or carry a card that explains the allergy. Ask your child's healthcare provider where to get these items.
    Medical Alert Jewelry
  • Inform all healthcare providers of the allergy. This includes dentists, nurses, doctors, and surgeons.

How can I manage my child's allergies?

  • Use nasal rinses as directed. If your child is old enough, have him or her rinse with a saline solution daily. This will help clear allergens out of your child's nose. Use distilled water if possible. You can also boil tap water and let it cool before your child uses it. Do not let your child use tap water that has not been boiled.
  • Keep your child away from cigarette smoke. Allergy symptoms may decrease if your child is not around smoke. Talk to your adolescent about not smoking. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can cause lung damage. Ask your adolescent's healthcare provider for information if he or she currently smokes and needs help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your adolescent's healthcare provider before he or she uses these products.

How can I help my child prevent an allergic reaction?

  • Do not let your child go outside when pollen counts are high if he or she has seasonal allergies. Your child's symptoms may be better if he or she goes outside only in the morning or evening. Use your air conditioner, and change air filters often.
  • Help your child avoid dust, fur, and mold. Dust and vacuum your home often. Your child may want to wear a mask during vacuuming. Keep pets in certain rooms, and bathe them often. Use a dehumidifier (machine that decreases moisture) to help prevent mold.
  • Do not let your child use products that contain latex if he or she has a latex allergy. Have your adolescent use nonlatex gloves if he or she needs gloves for work. Always tell healthcare providers about your child's latex allergy.
  • Have your child avoid areas that attract insects if he or she has an insect bite or sting allergy. Areas include trash cans, gardens, and picnics. Do not let your child wear bright clothing or strong scents when he or she will be outside.
  • Help your child prevent an allergic reaction caused by food. Your child may have a reaction if your child's food is not prepared safely. For example, your child could be served food that touched your child's trigger food during preparation. This is called cross-contamination. Kitchen tools can also cause cross-contamination. Tell your child's school officials or daycare providers about the allergy. They may need to prepare your child's food in a separate part of the kitchen to prevent cross-contamination.

Call 911 for signs or symptoms of anaphylaxis,

such as trouble breathing, swelling in your child's mouth or throat, or wheezing. Your child may also have itching, a rash, hives, or feel like he or she is going to faint.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your child has tingling in his or her hands or feet.
  • Your child's skin is red or flushed.

When should I contact my child's healthcare provider?

  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

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