Allergies & Asthma

Asthma in Children

Asthma is a chronic, inflammatory disease in which the airways become sensitive to allergens (any substance that triggers an allergic reaction). The exact cause of asthma is not completely known. It is believed to be partially inherited, but it also involves many other environmental, infectious, and chemical factors. Several things happen to the airways when a child is exposed to certain triggers:

  • The lining of the airways becomes swollen and inflamed
  • The muscles that surround the airways tighten
  • The production of mucus is increased, leading to mucus plugs

After a child is exposed to a certain trigger, the body releases histamine and other agents that can cause inflammation in a child's airways. The body also releases other factors that can cause the muscles of the airways to tighten, or become smaller. There is also an increase in mucus production that may clog the airways. Each child has different triggers that cause the asthma to worsen. You should discuss this with your child's doctor.

The changes that occur in asthma are believed to happen in two phases:

  1. An immediate response to the trigger leads to swelling and narrowing of the airways. This makes it initially difficult for your child to breathe.

  2. A delayed response, which can happen four to eight hours after the initial exposure to the allergen, leads to further inflammation of the airways and obstruction of airflow.

The following are the most common symptoms of asthma. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Coughing either constant or intermittent.
  • Wheezing, a whistling sound that may be heard while your child is breathing.
  • Trouble breathing or shortness of breath while your child is playing or exercising
  • Chest tightness - Your child may say his or her chest hurts or does not feel good.
  • Fatigue
  • Nighttime cough
  • Noisy breathing

The symptoms of asthma may resemble other problems or medical conditions. Always consult your child's doctor for a diagnosis.

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Allergies

Allergies are physiological reactions caused when the immune system reacts to a specific foreign substance (allergen) that has been inhaled, touched, or eaten by a person. Normally, the human body defends itself against harmful substances, such as viruses or bacteria, but, sometimes, the defenses aggressively attack usually innocuous substances such as dust, mold, or pollen. The immune system generates large amounts of the antibodies called immunoglobin E (IgE), to attack and destroy the supposed enemy. Each IgE antibody specifically targets a particular allergen-the substance that triggers the allergic reaction. In this disease-fighting process, inflammatory chemicals, such as histamines, cytokines, and leukotrienes are released or produced, and some unpleasant, and, in extreme cases, life-threatening, symptoms may be experienced by an allergy-prone person.

A food allergy is an abnormal response of the body to a certain food. It is important to know that this is different from a food intolerance, which does not affect the immune system, although some of the same signs may be present. Food allergy causes an immune system response, causing symptoms that range from uncomfortable to life-threatening. Food intolerance does not affect the immune system, although some symptoms may be the same as in food allergy.

Eggs, milk, and peanuts are the most common causes of food allergies in children, with wheat, soy, and tree nuts also included. Peanuts, nuts, fish, and shellfish commonly cause the most severe reactions. Allergic symptoms may begin within minutes to an hour after ingesting the food. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, it does not take much of the food to cause a severe reaction in highly allergic people. In fact, as little as 1/44,000 of a peanut kernel can cause an allergic reaction for severely allergic individuals. The symptoms of a food allergy may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

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