To Your Health: Some advice for identifying and treating allergy symptoms

By Alfred Casale - To Your Health
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I hope all the mothers out there had as nice a Mother’s Day weekend as my wife Mary did.

Granddaughters Rowan and Eve were in town with mom Kate, and we did exactly what grandparents are supposed to do: spoiled all three rotten. Rowan announced after an afternoon at The Lands at Hillside Farms watching the sheep “get a haircut” and chasing the rooster yelling “cookie doodle-do” that she wants to be a farmer. Eve must be delighted since about 40 people fell in love with her at Mass at St. Theresa’s in Shavertown and the Westmoreland Club Mother’s Day brunch. Kate did some personal archaeology, digging up any number of artifacts from her past buried in our stuff. The girls seem to think NEPA is the playground of the U.S. — ice cream after most meals contributed to this, I’m sure.

Kate’s husband, Andy, is allergic to a few foods, and some of Ro’s playmates have asthma or respiratory allergies, so we’re quite tuned in to watching the girls for any signs they may be affected — so far, so good.

Kids pick up illnesses from their friends and classmates all the time, which makes it easy to assume that their runny nose or cough is just another bug. But depending on the time of year or any changes in diet, it could actually be allergies.

Your immune system’s job is to protect you by fighting off viruses and bacteria. But certain substances cause the immune system of some to overreact and produce allergy symptoms. Allergies share symptoms with colds and other viruses, so it’s often hard to distinguish between them and something else.

Allergies can produce a number of different symptoms, including:

  • Red, watery, puffy or itchy eyes
  • Sneezing and postnasal drip
  • Itchy ears, mouth or throat
  • Coughing, wheezing or tightness in the chest or shortness of breath
  • Eczema or hives
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Cramps, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting
  • And rarely, very serious drops in blood pressure and breathing difficulties

Common allergens include tree pollen, dust, mold, animal dander, peanuts, eggs, shellfish, dairy and venom from insect stings like those of bees. Allergies can start at any age. However, they are more likely to begin during childhood.

The most common allergic reaction is hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, which can cause a runny and itchy nose, postnasal drip, sneezing and congestion. Although it’s called hay fever, it’s important to note it’s not caused by hay and does not produce a fever.

Some allergies are easier to spot than others. Itchiness, runny nose, sneezing and watery eyes, when pollen is all around us, are a giveaway, but when your child is fatigued or nauseous, you might suspect it’s something else.

When it comes to spotting allergies, itchy patches of skin, hives, itchy and runny eyes or cold-like symptoms are classic signs. In addition, stomach problems that are otherwise unexplained may be symptoms of allergies, rather than a stomach virus or mild food poisoning.

Coughing, wheezing and other breathing issues such as asthma could also be signs of allergies. Just as tree pollen can make your eyes water and your nose run, it can also cause asthma symptoms. Your body thinks it is responding to an ‘invader’ and, in the case of asthma, your lungs’ defense mechanisms are triggered.

If you suspect your child has allergies, a visit to your pediatrician is in order. During an office visit, your child’s pediatrician will ask questions about the symptoms and when they occur, other family members’ experiences with allergies and if your child’s diet has changed recently.

Your pediatrician may simply recommend an over-the-counter allergy medication that’s suitable for your child. They may also prescribe medication to manage breathing symptoms, such as an inhaler.

In addition to treating respiratory allergies with medicine, you can also try limiting your kids’ allergies by dusting and vacuuming your home to remove dust and prevent mold, keeping windows closed during high-pollen season, preventing anyone from smoking near your child, and keeping other triggers away from your kids.

We’ve talked about food allergies and how to introduce new foods into a baby’s diet before. Stay reading these columns because as Eve begins taking more than milk, I’ll write about the latest advice on food allergens from pediatricians. I can tell you though, that Ro’s not allergic to shrimp, at least not Chef Frank Priore’s shrimp Sunday at the Westmoreland!

On a very serious note, if you notice your child is having trouble breathing or has a rapid pulse, feels dizzy, has low blood pressure or swelling of the throat, a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylactic shock could be the reason. Call 911 immediately.

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By Alfred Casale

To Your Health

Dr. Alfred Casale, a cardiothoracic surgeon, is Associate Chief Medical Officer for Geisinger Health and Chair of the Geisinger Cardiac Institute. Readers may write to him via [email protected]

Dr. Alfred Casale, a cardiothoracic surgeon, is Associate Chief Medical Officer for Geisinger Health and Chair of the Geisinger Cardiac Institute. Readers may write to him via [email protected]