If your child has allergies to things like house dust mites, pollens, grasses, animals, latex, insect stings and bites, avoiding these allergens is important for managing allergies. Knowing what to do in case of an allergic reaction is also important.
Many children are allergic to ordinary things in our homes and environment, like house dust mites, insect stings and bites, pets, grasses, weeds and pollens. Some children are also allergic to less common things like medications or latex (rubber products).
If you think your child might have allergies, talk to your GP. Your GP might refer you to an allergy and immunology specialist, who can assess your child.
Children might have an adverse reaction to some food additives and chemicals used to make different products, like carpet glue, dyes and solvents. This isn’t an allergy and these usually don’t cause a severe reaction.
Allergic reactions: symptoms
If the allergic reaction is mild or moderate, your child’s symptoms will usually include one or more of the following:
- rash, hives or welts
- swelling of the face, eyes or lips
- tingling mouth
- abdominal pain or vomiting (if this happens after an insect sting, it means your child is having a severe allergic reaction)
asthma, eczema and hay fever symptoms – these symptoms might be worse than usual.
Severe allergic reactions can happen with substances other than food, including medications, latex and insect stings. If the reaction is severe (anaphylaxis), your child might have one or more of the following signs or symptoms:
- difficult or noisy breathing
- swelling of the tongue
- swelling or tightness in the throat
- trouble talking and/or a hoarse voice
- a wheeze or persistent cough
- persistent dizziness or fainting.
Young children might go pale and floppy.
Mild, moderate and even severe allergic reactions are common, but deaths from allergic reactions are rare. Deaths are usually caused by a delay in the person receiving life-saving medication.
Allergic reactions: what to do
If you think your child is having a mild to moderate allergic reaction, it’s appropriate to give your child a dose of antihistamine (in tablet or syrup form).
In fact, having an antihistamine in your home’s first aid kit is a good idea – this way, it’s handy when you need it. It’s a good idea to use one that won’t make your child sleepy (non-sedating). Syrup is a good alternative if your child can’t swallow or doesn’t like tablets.
If your child shows signs of a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis), he needs urgent medical attention. Call an ambulance immediately – phone 000. While you’re waiting for the ambulance, lay your child flat to help keep his blood pressure stable.
Your child might have an allergic reaction to prescription medications. The allergy could also be to medications you can buy without a prescription from the pharmacy, supermarket or health food shop.
If your child has hives or swelling after taking the first 1-2 doses of a particular medication, she might have an allergy to that medication. Talk to your GP about the reaction immediately. If your child has any trouble breathing, call an ambulance to take her to hospital.
What’s not a medication allergy
If your child has a reaction like diarrhoea or vomiting after taking medication, it’s more likely to be caused by illness or the effect of the medications on healthy bacteria in the gut. If your child is taking antibiotics and gets diarrhoea, it might help to give him a probiotic or live culture yoghurt. If the diarrhoea has blood in it, you should talk to your GP.
Localised reactions to vaccinations are common and usually include pain, swelling at the injection site and mild fever. True allergic reactions to vaccines are very rare.
Dust mite allergy
Dust mites are found in almost every Australian home. They’re tiny bugs that eat flakes of skin and mould. They live in warm, moist places like mattresses, pillows, soft toys, soft furnishings and carpet.
The usual symptoms of dust mite allergy include hay fever – sneezing, itchy eyes, eczema, blocked or runny nose and asthma. If your child’s nose gets blocked, she might snore. Dust mite allergy usually doesn’t cause hives.
Dust mite allergies aren’t seasonal – they happen throughout the year.
You can’t get rid of all of the dust mites in your home, but you can reduce their numbers and get rid of the allergens they produce. The most important place to focus is your child’s bed and bedroom, where you can reduce dust mites by:
- covering your child’s bed with a dust mite cover, which will keep dust mites away from your child when he’s sleeping
- washing sheets and pillow cases every week in water hotter than 55°C
- washing blankets, doonas and dust mite covers every two months in hot water
- removing all soft toys from the bedroom, or washing them weekly in eucalyptus oil.
Other things you can do include:
- removing clutter and keeping your home as clean as possible
- vacuuming carpets frequently using a good vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter
- keeping humidity levels down in your home with ventilation – for example, are the kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans working properly, and is there a window you can keep open some of the time?
- trying not to have carpets in your home where possible
- trying not to cover furniture with cloth – for example, draping rugs and throws over a couch – which can give dust mites a place to breed.
Children can become allergic to the hair, dander and saliva of animals like cats, dogs, horses and rabbits.
Allergies to animals usually cause symptoms in the skin, nose or eyes from contact with the animal dander. These allergies are most likely to cause itchy skin, hives and an itchy, runny nose and eyes. They can also make your child’s hay fever or asthma worse.
Your child might be OK with her own pet, but have a reaction to other people’s pets. In this case, you could give her a dose of antihistamine (one that won’t make her sleepy) about 30 minutes before you visit a house where you know there’s an animal that your child reacts to. Changing your child’s clothes as soon as you get home and getting her into the shower might help prevent her bringing the allergen into your house.
Your child should avoid touching the animal he reacts to. This will usually be enough to keep symptoms under control.
If your family pet is the problem, the best way for your child to avoid contact is to keep the animal outside. Don’t let the animal sleep on your child’s bed.
Allergies to grasses, weeds and pollens
Allergies to pollens, grasses and weeds are common. These allergies usually cause hay fever symptoms, which sometimes include runny, itchy eyes and nose. Some children can develop skin rashes after touching grass, or their eczema might get worse.
These allergies tend to be worse in the spring and summer months, when grasses and other plants are actively growing.
Your child can reduce exposure to grasses, weeds and pollens by:
- wearing long sleeves and long trousers when sitting on or playing in grass (if she usually develops a skin rash when her skin comes into contact with grass)
- having a bath or shower after playing outside, especially if she feels itchy
- staying inside on windy days
- keeping windows and doors shut and staying inside when the grass is being mowed.
A latex allergy could be the problem if your child develops redness, a rash or swelling after contact with a product that contains latex. This could be balloons, rubber gloves, baby bottle teats or dummies.
If your child has a latex allergy, you’ll need to tell all medical, dental and other health care professionals who see your child. They must avoid using latex products around him.
Some people have severe reactions (anaphylaxis) to latex. If your child experiences any of the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis, call an ambulance to take your child to hospital.
Insect stings and bites are common, especially if your child spends a lot of time outdoors. An insect sting or bite usually causes only temporary pain and redness around the sting. In some children, though, the reaction can be worse.
In Australia, your child is most likely to experience stings from bees, wasps, stinging ants and bites from ticks. Bites from mosquitoes and march flies are also very common, but severe reactions to these are very rare.
The usual symptoms of an insect sting are sharp, stinging pain at the bite or sting site, and a white mark surrounded by a small red swollen area. The pain usually disappears within a few hours.
Reactions to insect bites and stings
Different children get different amounts of swelling after insect bites. About 10% of children will have more swelling, welts or hives than other children because of a sting. Swelling can sometimes increase for a couple of days.
Approximately 1% of children have a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) after an insect sting or bite. If this happens, your child needs to go to the hospital immediately.
Insect stings can be treated by:
- removing the sting if it’s still in the skin (flick out the sting if possible – grabbing it can squeeze extra venom into the sting site)
- washing the sting or bite site
- applying a cold pack to the sting or bite site
- giving your child a dose of an antihistamine (one that won’t make her sleepy) if the area is very itchy.
For severe allergic reactions, give an adrenaline auto-injector (if available) and seek urgent medical attention.
With tick bites, disturbing the tick can lead to the injection of allergen and trigger an allergic reaction. If your child is at risk of anaphylaxis from tick bites, seek urgent medical attention. Do not attempt to remove the tick yourself.
Prevent insect stings and bites to your child by:
- covering him with clothing – wear shoes, long sleeves and pants when outside (light-coloured clothing is less attractive to bees and wasps), and gloves if gardening
- being aware of areas where insects are very active – for example, near beehives or around swimming pools
- having insect nests removed by professionals
- not leaving canned drinks uncovered when you’re outside because wasps and bees can crawl inside.
Chemical allergies and intolerances
Chemicals in common items like metal jewellery, clothing dye, adhesive dressings and glues can cause allergic reactions of the skin called contact dermatitis. Your child might also react to creams, ointments or sunscreen used on her skin. These reactions are usually not life-threatening.
If your family has a history of sensitive skin, you could try using hypoallergenic products on your child’s skin. Trying any creams on a small area of skin first is also a good idea.
Keep your house as ‘smell free’ as possible by minimising the use of perfumed cleaning products or air fresheners. These can irritate your child’s skin and nose.