Just being a parent can make you panic at the slightest symptom your child may have in response to eating something or coming in contact with something. The world is full of things that can cause sensitivities or a full blown anaphylactic allergic response that is life threatening. The typical knee-jerk reaction of a loving parent is to isolate the child from everything that may cause even the slightest symptom from dust that causes sneezing to a laundry detergent that may or may not have contributed to a slight rash. However, your child's immune system may benefit from a little exposure to some things, or your child may have serious allergies. Here is how to tell the difference.
A True Allergic Response
There is a difference between sensitivities and true allergic responses. Sensitivities can cause symptoms that look like an allergic response, especially when it comes to the gastrointestinal tract. For example, peanut allergies are something many parents are concerned about. If your child gets an upset stomach after ingesting something with peanuts in it, it does not mean it is a peanut allergy. It can be a sensitivity or intolerance of peanuts or something else in the food. A true peanut allergy causes an immune response. Hives, trouble breathing and swelling are typical symptoms of an allergic response involving the immune system in contrast to an upset stomach, gas and mild diarrhea, which is likely just a sensitivity or intolerance.
If you suspect that your child is having an immune system response where there is even the slightest difficulty in breathing or altered state of consciousness, you should immediately call 911 for emergency medical intervention as this could be the beginning of anaphylaxis. Some of the symptoms of sensitivities and intolerance, such as itching, cramps and diarrhea, overlap with the early symptoms of anaphylaxis, so it is better to be safe than sorry. Professionals, like those at Premier Surgical Associates, know that anaphylactic shock is proof of a true immune response, but not all true allergies lead to this life-threatening immune system reaction. Medical doctors specializing in allergies are called allergists. They can test your child to discover what substances are triggering a true allergic response, and they can treat your child's immune system to control, manage and even cure some allergies.
Symptoms to Be Concerned About
Not all true allergic responses involving the immune system lead to the need to inject epinephrine to stop anaphylaxis. Your child may have seasonal allergies to plant pollens. Tree pollen is a common allergy trigger. In some places you can see it gathering as a fine yellow or white dust on flat surfaces outdoors when the trees are in bloom. Your child may have an allergy to house dust or pet dander that causes sneezing, coughing, itchy/watery eyes and wheezing. A slight rash due to contact with an allergen may also resolve quickly without intervention. However, you should watch out for the combination of symptoms and their seriousness. Any difficulty in breathing should be treated as an emergency. That rash combined with coughing, wheezing and abdominal pain is much more serious than any single symptom being mild and on its own. Combination symptoms can be an indicator of the beginning of anaphylactic shock. The big three to monitor are any difficulty in breathing or swallowing, altered level of consciousness, and circulatory impairment such as heart palpitations or dropping blood pressure.
Looking at bee stings as an example for how a body can change its response is a good thing to know to help you make a decision about having epi pens on hand, just in case. A normal response to a bee sting is to feel pain and have some local swelling. Your child's immune system then works to build antibodies to protect against future stings. However, not every immune system functions properly, and some people who have had minor reactions to a bee sting have an anaphylactic response to a second one later on. With that information in mind, it demonstrates there is no way to predict your child's immune response to multiple exposures of allergens or toxins. If there is any concern or doubt, asking your doctor for a prescription for emergency epinephrine injectors along with training in when to use them is okay. It is better to have them on hand and never need them than to need them and not have them.
Allergies can be anything from mild to life-threatening, and the human body can alter its response to allergens over time. This is what makes them really scary. You are likely focused on your child potentially getting worse during the next exposure, but the good news is that the opposite is usually the case. There are even protocols that doctors use to treat serious peanut allergies so that a child that could not ever be exposed can one day be eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch.
Rachelle Wilber is a freelance writer living in the San Diego, California area. She graduated from San Diego State University with her Bachelor's Degree in Journalism and Media Studies. She tries to find an interest in all topics and themes, which prompts her writing. When she isn't on her porch writing in the sun, you can find her shopping, at the beach, or at the gym. Follow her on Twitter @RachelleWilber