Kids and allergies can be a complicated combination. First, there are all kinds of allergies that people can suffer from: environmental allergies, seasonal, and of course the dreaded food allergies. But how do you know if your kid's symptoms are allergy-based or the result of something else, like a virus or an infection? Some of the signs your kid is developing allergies can actually be pretty easy to miss, especially if your child hasn't suffered from allergies before.
I checked in with several pediatric allergy experts to see what they had to say: allergist, immunologist and creator of Hello, Peanut (a product to help parents safely introduce peanuts to thier babies) Dr. David Erstein; allergist and immunologist Dr. Lakiea Wright; allergist Dr. Pruvi Parikh with the Allergy & Asthma Network; and Dr. Jeffrey S. Rosenbloom an Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist of Alamo ENT in San Antonio.
Some of these symptoms are the classic tell-tale signs of an allergic reaction, but others aren't so obvious, so they can be easy for parents to miss. Kids of all ages can develop allergies, starting at only a few months old, but they "may present at any age," says Dr. Erstein. He explains that allergy symptoms "can be sudden (like with food allergies) or gradual (for example, eczema or nasal issues) or both (like with asthma symptoms)," but it really depends on the child. Some of the most commons allergies kids experience are "plant pollen, food (like peanuts, eggs, milk and milk products), insect stings, mold, dust mites, pet dander and medications," says Dr. Wright. While certain children might outgrow their allergic reactions to milk and eggs, other allergies, like those to nuts, tend to remain.
Helping your child identify the allergen can help get them back to feeling like themselves again, which is important, because allergy symptoms can be brutal. If you suspect allergies are responsible for your child's issues, there are simple tests that can be done to determine what it is they're allergic to, says Dr. Wright, from food to dust mites to mold to animal dander and more.
While food allergies are less common than environmental allergies, Dr. Parikh says they can be very severe. The most typical culprits are milk, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish, she adds, and symptoms can include a rash, itching, swelling that may or may not be accompanied by breathing issues, vomiting, diarrhea, and even loss of consciousness.
When it comes to treating allergies, one option is to take your child to an allergist who can actually "help build tolerance via gradual exposure to the allergen," explains Dr. Erstein, adding that with environmental allergies, allergists can provide immunotherapy injections or sublingual tablets. As for food allergies, "some practitioners have begun to help increase tolerance through oral immunotherapy," Dr. Erstein adds. "Additionally, a couple of medications should be available in the near future to help those suffering from peanut allergies."
Exciting news for the many kids who suffer from peanut allergies (which, for the record, tend to be very obvious). For developing sensitivities with less obvious symptoms, these are the signs to look out for.
1. Chronic Ear Problems
Does your child suffer from chronic ear infections or ear pain?The underlying cause could be an ongoing allergic reaction, according to Dr. Rosenbloom.
2. Itchy, Watery Eyes
If your child is rubbing their eyes often (even when they're not sleepy), take note. "Itchy and watery eyes are often telltale signs that the symptoms are due to an allergy," Dr. Rosenbloom says.
3. Cold-Like Symptoms
Coughing, sneezing, and a runny nose are the most typical symptoms when it comes to environmental and seasonal allergies, according to Dr. Wright. But how can you tell the difference between a runny nose that's allergy-induced and a case of the sniffles? The duration of the symptoms is what can help you to differentiate between a cold and allergy.
"Cold symptoms typically last about 7 to 10 days," says Dr. Wright. "Allergy symptoms may last several weeks, especially depending on season and environment." For example, your child's symptoms may occur during peak pollen season or when they're around a pet.
"If your child’s symptoms remain consistent and appear at similar times or during certain situations, it could be an allergy. If the symptoms worsen over time and appear at seemingly random times, it could be a cold."
4. Difficulty Breathing
Probably one of the scariest symptoms, if your child is wheezing, had shortness of breath or develops asthma, these are all signs that allergies could be an issue.
5. A Rash, Hives Or Swelling
If your child develops a rash or hives when they're around certain things (like animals or trees) and especially when they eat certain foods, you're oftentimes looking at an allergy.
6. They Clear Their Throat Often
A very subtle symptom, Dr. Erstein says that an intermittent cough and/or tendency to clear the throat can easily go unnoticed by parents.
7. They Won't Eat A Certain Food
Just because your child doesn't want to eat certain foods doesn't mean they're allergic necessarily, but it can. Food aversions (and especially vomiting after eating certain foods) can also be an indication that your child might be allergic to something. As Dr. Erstein explains, it's not uncommon for babies who repeatedly spit out certain foods to end up being allergic to those very foods. It's not an excuse to give your kids a pass on eating their veggies, but it is something to consider.