Many children are allergic to ordinary things in our homes and environment, like chemicals, dust mites, grasses, weeds or trees, insects and pets. Some children have less common allergies to things like medicines or latex (rubber products).
If you think your child might have allergies, talk to your GP. Your GP might order some tests or refer you to an allergy and immunology specialist or paediatrician, who can assess your child.
Children might have reactions to some food additives and chemicals used to make products like carpet glue, dyes and solvents. These aren’t allergies, and they usually don’t result in severe reactions.
Mild or moderate allergic reaction
Symptoms of a mild or moderate allergic reaction usually include one or more of the following:
- rash, hives or welts
- swelling of the face, eyes or lips
- tingling or itchy mouth
- eczema, hay fever or asthma that’s worse than usual
- stomach pain, vomiting or diarrhoea.
If you think your child is having a mild to moderate allergic reaction, you can give your child a dose of non-drowsy antihistamine. Your pharmacist or GP can advise you on the most appropriate brand for your child.
Mild to moderate allergic reactions are much more common than severe allergic reactions. Also, deaths from severe allergic reactions are rare. Deaths can happen when there’s a delay in giving life-saving medication, like adrenaline, to the person having the reaction.
Severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis
A severe allergic reaction is called anaphylaxis. Symptoms might include one or more of the following:
- difficult or noisy breathing
- tongue swelling
- throat swelling or tightness
- difficulty talking or a hoarse voice
- a wheeze or persistent cough
- persistent dizziness or fainting
- paleness and floppiness (in young children)
- severe stomach pain, vomiting or diarrhoea.
Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction and needs urgent medical attention. If your child is having an anaphylactic reaction, first lay your child flat or keep them sitting. Don’t let your child stand or walk around. Next use an adrenaline injector like EpiPen or Anapen if one is available. Then call an ambulance – phone 000.
Chemicals in common items like metal jewellery, clothing dye, adhesive dressings and glues can cause allergic reactions of the skin. This is called contact dermatitis. Your child might also react to creams, ointments or sunscreen.
These reactions usually aren’t life-threatening.
If your family has a history of sensitive skin, you could try using hypoallergenic products on your child’s skin. Trying products on a small area of skin first is 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.
Dust mite allergy
Dust mites live in almost every Australian home. 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, eczema and asthma. Also, if your child’s nose gets blocked, they might snore.
Dust mite allergies aren’t seasonal – they happen throughout the year.
It’s best to focus on reducing the dust mites in your child’s bed and bedroom. Here’s how:
- Wash sheets and pillow cases every week in water 60°C or hotter.
- Cover your child’s bed with a dust mite cover, which will keep dust mites away from your child when they’re sleeping.
- Wash blankets, doonas and dust mite covers every 2 months in hot water.
- Remove sheepskin and woollen underlays from the bed.
- Remove all soft toys from the bed and bedroom. Or you can wash them weekly in eucalyptus oil or put them in a freezer overnight.
And here are ways to reduce dust mites in other areas of your home:
- Remove clutter and keep your home as clean as possible.
- Vacuum carpets weekly using a good vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter.
- Keep humidity levels low by using kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans. Keep windows open.
- Try not to have carpets in your home where possible.
- Try not to cover furniture with cloth. For example, avoid draping rugs and throws over a couch.
Grass, weed and tree allergies
Allergies to pollens from grasses, weeds and trees are common. These allergies usually cause hay fever symptoms, which sometimes include runny, itchy eyes and nose, sneezing and a blocked nose.
These allergies tend to be worse in the spring and summer months, when grasses, trees and other plants are flowering.
Some children can develop skin rashes after touching grass, or their eczema might get worse. This is usually because their skin is irritated by contact with the grass. It’s probably not an allergic reaction.
It’s best to reduce your child’s exposure to pollens from grasses, weeds and trees. Here’s how:
- Monitor the pollen forecast for days with high pollen counts.
- Stay inside on days with high pollen counts and windy days. Also stay inside after thunderstorms.
- Keep windows and doors shut on days with high pollen counts and windy days.
- Avoid activities that expose your child to pollens for example – for example, mowing grass.
- Get your child to have a bath or shower after playing outside, especially if your child feels itchy.
Insect stings and bites are common, especially if your child spends a lot of time outdoors.
Reactions to insect stings and bites
The usual symptoms of a reaction to an insect sting are sharp, stinging pain at the sting or bite site and changed skin colour around a small, swollen area. The pain usually disappears within a few hours.
Children might get swelling, welts or hives after insect bites. Swelling can sometimes increase for a couple of days.
A very small number of children have anaphylaxis after insect stings or bites.
Treatment for most insect bites and stings
- Remove 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.
- Wash the sting or bite site.
- Put a cold pack on the sting or bite site.
- Give your child a dose of an antihistamine if the area is very itchy.
- Give your child paracetamol or ibuprofen in recommended doses if the area is painful.
If your child has symptoms of anaphylaxis, lay your child flat, give them an adrenaline injector if available, and call an ambulance – phone 000.
Treatment for tick bites
- Do not disturb or attempt to remove the tick. This can lead to the injection of the allergen and trigger an allergic reaction.
- If your child is at risk of anaphylaxis from tick bites, seek urgent medical attention.
- Get your child to wear shoes, and light-coloured, long shirts and pants when they’re outside. They should also wear gloves if they’re gardening.
- Avoid putting perfumed products on your child when they’re going outside.
- Avoid areas where insects are very active – for example, near beehives or around swimming pools.
- Don’t leave canned drinks uncovered when you’re outside. Wasps or bees could crawl inside.
- Get professionals to remove insect nests around your home.
If your child is at risk of anaphylaxis from insect stings, your allergy and immunology specialist might talk with you about allergen immunotherapy. This treatment typically takes 5 years to complete but is usually very effective.
A latex allergy could be the problem if your child develops skin discolouration and a rash or swelling after contact with a product that contains latex. These products include balloons, rubber gloves, baby bottle teats or dummies.
If your child has a latex allergy, you need to tell medical, dental and other health professionals who see your child. They must avoid using latex products around your child.
Some people have an anaphylactic reaction to latex. If your child experiences any of the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis, lay your child flat, give them an adrenaline injector (if available) and call an ambulance – phone 000.
Your child might develop a rash or swelling when taking prescription medicines like antibiotics. This might be because they have an allergy to the medicine. But sometimes rashes and swelling might be caused by an underlying infection rather than an allergy.
If your child has diarrhoea or vomiting many hours or days after taking medicine, it’s probably not an allergic reaction. It’s more likely to be an illness or a side effect of the medicine.
Local reactions to vaccinations at the site where they’re injected are common and usually include pain, skin discolouration and swelling. Your child might also get a mild fever. True allergic reactions to vaccines are very rare.
If your child has a reaction to a medicine, it’s best to talk with your GP.
Children can become allergic to the hair, dander and saliva of cats, dogs, horses, rabbits and other animals.
Allergies to animals usually cause symptoms like itchy skin, hives, an itchy, runny nose and itchy eyes. They can also make your child’s hay fever, asthma or eczema worse.
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 or in your child’s bedroom.
If your child has reactions to other people’s pets, you could give your child a dose of antihistamine 30-60 minutes before the visit to the pets’ homes. Your child should also avoid touching the animal that they react to. This will usually be enough to keep symptoms under control.
Changing your child’s clothes as soon as you get home and getting them into the shower might stop the allergen getting into your house.