Protecting children from allergies

Avoidance of exposure and early treatment are key

Over the past 15 years, allergy-related diseases have increasingly affected people across Thailand, especially those who in large cities like Bangkok. Allergies have become a major cause of morbidity in children.

Allergies are conditions caused by hypersensitivity of the immune system to normally harmless substances in the environment. When a person is allergic to something, the immune system mistakenly believes that this substance is harming the body.

Major risk factors for allergies include a family history of allergies and certain factors in the environment.

"Allergies can be passed down through genes from parents to their kids. If one of the parents are allergic, a child runs a risk of 30-50% of having the same allergy. If both parents have allergies, their children have a 50-80% likelihood of developing allergies. Some kids can have allergies even if no family member is allergic," explained paediatrician Dr Karl Kalavantavanich.

Even though heredity can determine whether your children will have an allergy or not, environmental factors can also be found responsible.

"The exposure to today's city pollution such as dust, or exposure to dust mites, mould, pets, pollens and foods, known as allergens, can trigger an allergic reaction." The symptoms of allergies can vary.

"When allergens affect the respiratory system, they might trigger symptoms of coughing, sneezing, congestion, sinus pressure and difficulty breathing. Whereas eye allergies can cause the eyes to become itchy, red or watery as well as swollen eyelids. Skin allergies produce red and itchy skin, while food allergies cause abdominal pain, diarrhoea, nausea or vomiting as well as skin rashes or hives."

Some allergies are easy to identify but others are less obvious because their symptoms can be similar to those of other conditions such as influenza or common cold.

"Although genetics is an uncontrollable factor, parents can protect their children from all allergens in the environment, which helps reduce allergies by approximately 60%-70%."

To confirm the cause of an allergy, allergists usually conduct an allergy test.

"A drop of a purified liquid form of the allergen is dropped onto the skin. After approximately 20 minutes, if a lump surrounded by a reddish area appears at the site, the test is positive, which confirms that your child is allergic to the allergen.

"Some allergy medication may be provided to children by a paediatrician. These may include medicines, antihistamines, eye drops or nasal sprays. Doctors can also prescribe allergy shots that help desensitise patients against allergens."

One of the most important parts of allergy management is "avoidance of exposure". If we know what we are allergic to, we need to avoid exposure to that particular allergen such as dust, dust mites, animal dander, certain food etc.

"Allergies in children can be curable, but we need to detect them early for precise diagnosis and proper management," said Dr Karl.