Allergies in children and helping them cope
Wednesday, July 21st, 2021 00:00 | 4 mins read
Picture this: Your little one develops rashes every time he eats animal protein, or he sneezes in the morning when he wakes up. Three parents share how they have been managing these symptoms caused when a body’s immune system abnormally reacts to things that are typically harmless to many people.
Almost every single day, Mary Mwendwa would hear her four-year-old son cough and sneeze uncontrollably.
At first, she thought that it was just those episodes of common colds and coughs that affect young children from time to time.
Whenever it happened, she would take her son to hospital for treatment.
“The medicines prescribed were the usual cough syrups and antibiotics, which didn’t help much.
The condition went on and seemed to get worse until a friend advised me to visit a certain medical expert to establish the root cause of the persistent coughs and colds and it was at that time that it was discovered that my son was experiencing an allergic reaction brought about by the fluffy carpet that I had in the living room,” Mary recalls.
According to her, it had never crossed her mind that the fluffy carpet would be the cause of the problem. After all, she always ensured she cleaned it regularly to prevent dust from accumulating.
“It was the minute particles in those fluffs that would make my son experience the nasty coughs, especially since he loved sitting and rolling on it as he played with his toys.
The best option was to remove it from the living room to avert any further complications,” she explains
Just like Mary’s son, many other children are normally present with various allergic reactions, which may be triggered by different factors.
How allergies manifest
Allergies are physiological reactions caused when the immune system reacts to a specific foreign substance (allergen) that has been inhaled, touched or eaten by a person.
According to Dr Johnson Owiti, a paediatrician, when a person is allergic to something, the immune system mistakenly believes that this substance is harming the body.
Substances that cause allergic reactions — such as some foods, dust, plant pollen, or medicines — are known as allergens.
“The immune system generates large amounts of the antibodies called immunoglobin E (IgE), to attack and destroy the supposed enemy. Each IgE antibody specifically targets a particular allergen — the substance that triggers the allergic reaction.
In this disease-fighting process, inflammatory chemicals, such as histamines, cytokines and leukotrienes are released or produced, and some unpleasant, and, in extreme cases, life-threatening, symptoms may be experienced by an allergy-prone child,” he explains.
Perry Kanana, a mother of two boys aged 12 and six years says her first born son sneezes a lot in the mornings.
“When it’s cold or dusty, he sneezes continuously. He started coughing about four years ago and we would keep on visiting hospitals and get different diagnosis, from acute bronchitis to allergies. Just recently, the doctor ruled out asthma,” says Kanana.
“He is currently on medication and whenever there is a trigger, he starts coughing hence we have to closely monitor and ensure that there is nothing that can trigger the cough,” she adds.
Her second born on the other hand used to get tonsillitis and adenoids. Kanana offers: “He would also develop ear aches when he was younger and we couldn’t sleep.
At the age of four, he had a tonsillectomy surgery done. The infections went down to one per cent, but when it’s dry/dusty or cold, he tends to nosebleed.”
For Jacob Wamuswa, from the time his two boys were young; they couldn’t eat any animal protein and have just started having some in little portions in their teenage years.
“Initially, I used to take them to hospital on a daily basis, but I stopped when it was discovered that they react badly on animal proteins that is chicken, beef, fish and eggs.
The doctors I consulted told me that they would overcome the reactions from the age of 13,” says Wangila.
“They would itch; have swellings on their bodies and small wounds. They also experienced fevers.
“Actually, my first son who is 14 years old can now eat animal proteins. My second born son who is 12 feeds on little quantities because he still experiences some reaction when he eats too much of it,” he explains.
According to Dr Owiti, allergens can affect your child’s skin, respiratory tract, and other organs.
When it comes to the skin, if your child comes in contact with an allergen, their skin may appear red, itchy, bumpy or swollen.
Some children with allergies also develop eczema. The condition causes their skin to get inflamed, itchy, and irritated, even when they haven’t made contact with an allergen.
“Allergic reactions can also affect your child’s respiratory tract and sinuses. After coming into contact with an allergen, they may experience sneezing, stuffy or runny nose, red, itchy, or watery eyes, coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath,” he says.
Although they may not be cured, with proper care, they can usually be kept under control.
Dr Owiti says the most effective way to prevent allergic reactions is to avoid allergens.
Once you know what allergens your child is allergic to, it is good to consult a doctor on how they can avoid them and design an efficient treatment strategy.
For example, if your child is allergic to certain foods, the doctor will emphasise on the importance of never eating them as a measure to control the allergic reaction.