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Children's allergies explained

25th April 2012 Print

As it is National Allergy Week (23rd - 29th April), leading paediatric allergy expert Dr George Du Toit from The Portland Hospital for Women and Children provides the top ten facts about childhood allergies.

1. If your child suffers from an allergy, whether it be asthma, eczema, a food allergy, hay fever or one of the many other types of allergy, you're not alone. It's predicted that allergies now affect 40-50%of the population, with the rate increasing fastest amongst children.

2. No one really knows why allergies are increasing. One school of thought is that we lead cleaner, germ-free lives today and our immune systems are therefore under-developed and over-react when exposed to allergens such as grass pollen, house dust mites and cat hairs.  It is most likely to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors that act at different times.

3. Food allergy is most prevalent during the first few years of life and affects between 6-8% of children in the UK. The most common foods children are allergic to are: cow's milk hen's eggs, peanut, tree nut (e.g. cashew), sesame, soya, wheat and kiwi fruit.

4. Many children outgrow their allergies, for example, egg and milk allergy are outgrown in at least 85% of children by the age of 5-7 years, whereas peanut, tree nut and sesame allergy tend to continue into adulthood.

5. Common symptoms of food-induced allergies include rashes (hives, eczema), swelling, gut pain and vomiting, itchy red eyes and runny nose, wheezing, and very occasionally anaphylaxis.

6. Eczema is a complex skin disorder that arises due to complex genetic environmental interplay and which, in children, often heralds the start of the 'allergic march'. Eczema, especially if of early onset and increased severity, is strongly associated with food allergies and the development of aero-allergies, such as:

house dust mites
pet fur
cow's milk
hen's eggs

7. In up to 50% of children, eczema is associated with an underlying food allergy and whilst the food allergen may not actually cause the eczema, eating it may make the symptoms worse.

8. Foods such as tomato, citrus and berries may irritate facial eczema. You can still feed your child these foods, but it's better to serve them cooked, and after the application of a moisturiser to any dry skin or eczema patches on the face, to minimise symptoms.

9. Children of all ages can be tested for allergies (either through a skin test or blood test) but it's important that this is done by a doctor who specialises in allergy to ensure the condition is identified and managed correctly.

10. The good news is that allergy management is changing. Healthcare Professionals are starting to realise just how important it is to provide emotional support alongside symptom treatment, so do speak to your doctor and get the help you need. Additional information can be found at the British Society for Allergy & Clinical Immunology  (BSACI), Allergy UK, UK Anaphylaxis Campaign, Asthma UK, National Eczema Society.

Prof Gideon Lack and Dr George Du Toit are Consultant Paediatric Allergists at The Portland Hospital who specialise in the management of food allergy, eczema, asthma, bee and wasp allergy, hay-fever and antibiotic allergy.

The Portland Hospital is the UK's largest independent children's hospital, devoted to caring for babies and children up to the age of 16 years.

It is 'home' to more than 70 top paediatric related consultant specialists - the largest group of private paediatric specialists in the UK - many of whom are considered to be amongst the world's leading clinicians.