Kids can develop allergies to almost anything, but the symptoms may surprise you
By Melissa Tucker
As allergy season approaches, parents may be suffering themselves or wondering what to do about a child affected by the extra pollen or other allergens in the air.
“March through May is probably our worst time of the year,” said Robert Pesek, associate professor of Pediatrics and Allergy and Immunology, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. “We have both tree and grass pollen in large amounts. In the fall, September and October, ragweed is the biggest one and mold pollen.”
Most kids develop allergies around age 6 or 7, he said. So, if parents notice nasal symptoms or eye irritation around the same time of year or the change of the seasons, it’s worthwhile to consider allergy testing.
Allergens could be inside or outside the home. The environmental allergens doctors look at include trees, grasses, weeds and mold. Indoor allergens might be pets, dust mites, mold, Arkansas cockroaches, and in other parts of the country, mice and other rodents can be a big thing, he said.
“Eczema even at young ages can be triggered by allergens, but that tends to be more of the indoor allergens, the pets and dust mites and things like that,” he said.
And though seasonal allergies are the main focus this time of year, there’s often an overlap in allergies.
“A lot of kids with food allergies have other allergies as well. We do see a lot of overlap between food allergies, seasonal allergies, eczema, and things like that,” he said. “Sometimes it is a bigger issue, but not always.”
And it’s never too early to test children if parents suspect they have an allergy.
“There is no lower age limit at which testing can’t be done,” he said. “We’ve had a fair number of kids that have been sent to us, and the family said, ‘My doctor told me we couldn’t see you earlier because we weren’t old enough.’ That’s not true.”
He said if a child is vomiting, showing signs of eczema, hives or swelling, then physicians can perform a skin test or a blood test to determine the problem. However, other symptoms that might indicate a food allergy, such as constipation or behavioral problems, don’t often respond well to testing.
The most common food allergies include milk, eggs, soy, wheat, nuts, fish and shellfish. “These account for more than 90 percent of food allergies,” he said.
Food allergy diagnosis in children has increased by 50 percent in the last decade, and today more than 6 percent of children in the United States have a food allergy, Pesek said.
“You can have an allergy to any food, like lentils and pectin and foods that used to not be an issue,” he said. “Because we’re eating a bigger variety of foods, we’re seeing more and more new allergies in recent years.”
Many times a reaction to a food is more of an intolerance rather than an allergy.
“If a child is constipated, that doesn’t mean the milk isn’t a problem, but the allergy test isn’t going to help you out a lot,” he said. “Or if a child is having some other type of reaction—we’ve had parents ask about behavioral problems, changes in mood, sleep, all those type of things. Eliminating certain foods might solve the problem, but doing an allergy test might not always help.”
Though an allergy test can confirm a doctor’s suspicion that a child is allergic to food or something in the environment, the test alone isn’t proof.
“An allergy test is a confirmation of what I would talk about with a family. It doesn’t mean they’re allergic because they have the positive blood test,” he said. “You have to do the test in the right setting. It has to go along with what you suspect. It works best in kids who have an allergic reaction, not just all kids.”