When it comes to allergies, understanding the signs is key

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

No matter how you look at it, allergy diagnoses are on the rise. Whether it's airborne or food-related, more kids are being diagnosed with allergies today than ever.

According to Roger Friedman, M.D., with the Allergy Clinic at Nationwide Children's Hospital, "In general, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of children with allergies in the last 25 to 30 years."

This is significant because in the past, few people were aware of allergy issues, and those who were concerned about allergies were either those suffering from them or their families. Today, however, Dr. Friedman said, "People are pretty attuned to allergies. Primary care physicians and moms are always thinking about them," leading to earlier and more effective treatments.

Recognizing the warning signs your child may exhibit if he or she has an allergy is important. Food allergy symptoms include itchy mouth or throat, hives, rash, abdominal cramps and even difficulty breathing or shock.

But in the case of airborne allergens, it can be much more difficult for parents to discern if their child's symptoms mean he or she has an allergy, or just the common cold. Symptoms of children suffering from airborne allergies include sneezing, itchy nose or throat, nasal congestion and coughing.

A good indicator that can help you determine if your child's symptoms are more than a cold is if he or she has cold-like symptoms for over a week, or gets the same symptoms at the same time every year.

Doctors can't say for certain why some children develop food and environmental allergies and others don't. In the case of food allergies, though, experts say it probably has little to do with the foods a mother is exposed to during pregnancy, or the age at which a child is introduced to a potential allergen. "No one should feel guilty about exposing their child [to allergens] early or later in life," Friedman said.

Although many allergies were not understood and have been misdiagnosed in the past, allergy tests today are more accurate and specific than ever. For instance, doctors are now more likely to notice the difference between celiac disease (sensitivity to gluten) and

a wheat allergy, or lactose intolerance and a milk allergy.

Perhaps the best news is that allergies can be presumptively diagnosed by a pediatrician. Basic diagnoses involve looking at a patient's history and current symptoms. Your pediatrician also may refer you to an allergy specialist for further testing, which may include skin or blood tests. Skin tests can be performed at any age, but are most accurate in children older than 2.

Treatments also have taken a huge leap forward in the past few years. "We now have many options for treating allergies," Friedman said. "There are so many good medications available. Our first treatment is always avoidance [of the allergen], but when that fails, medications can really help."

If your child is diagnosed with an allergy, it's important to have a plan in place to deal with an allergic attack. Although avoidance is preferable, it's not always in the front of your child's mind. For this reason, your child's physician should talk with you about setting up an action plan.


Eight types of foods are responsible for 90 percent of all food allergies:

  • peanuts
  • tree nuts
  • milk
  • soy
  • shellfish
  • wheat
  • fish
  • eggs

By the numbers

  • 8%

    Food allergy diagnoses in children went up 18 percent from 1997 to 2007.

  • 4x

    Four out of every 100 children are diagnosed with a food allergy, which means that about 3 million kids are currently affected.

  • 9,500

    Hospitalizations due to food allergies rose from 2,600 between 1998 to 2000, to about 9,500 between 2004 to 2006.

  • 4/10

    Children with food allergies are four times more likely to develop other allergies, asthma and eczema.

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Each month, Pediatric HealthSource shares the latest treatment and research advancements from Nationwide Children's Hospital. This column is part of an ongoing community education project brought to you by: Discount Drug Mart.