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Angela Oswalt Morelli , MSW, edited by Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

In addition to oxygen, the air we breath contains particulate matter (i.e., particles of stuff that float freely in the air) such as pollen, animal dander, dust, and pollutants. The majority of people are not particularly bothered by the presence of these particles under normal conditions. However, some children are especially sensitive to them, and experience an allergic reaction when they are encountered. Other environmental triggers that may cause an allergic reaction include insect stings (e.g, bee stings) and bites, plant oils (e.g., poison oak), pet dander and fur, and certain foods such as peanuts, milk, and wheat.

upset childAllergic reactions vary in intensity and symptoms across different children, but typical symptoms may include a runny nose, rash, teary eyes, nasal congestion, coughing, sneezing, wheezing, or even asthma attacks in response to these triggering contaminants. Anaphylaxis (or anaphylactic shock) can occur in the wake of allergic sensitization (e.g., after one or more exposures to the substance to which children are allergic). Anaphylatic shock is a severe and life-threatening medical emergency which prevent children from being able to breath. A doctor may prescribe an EpiPen ® (e.g., a pre-packaged shot of Epinephrine to be injected into children's muscle in the event of such an emergency reaction) for the child to carry with them if anaphylatic shock is a concern.

Children with persistent, chronic allergic symptoms should be seen by an allergist (a medical doctor specialized in the assessment and treatment of allergies) for testing, accurate diagnosis based on blood and other tests, and treatment recommendations. An allergist is in the best position to discuss medications and preventative measures that parents can take which can help control children's severe allergic reactions.

Allergy Prevention and Minimization

As is the general case when it comes to managing any chronic medical condition, "an once of prevention is worth a pound of cure". Allergy symptoms can be decreased or (in some cases) even eliminated by taking steps to keep children's living environment as clean as possible. To this end, air filters fitted at the intake points of home and automobile heating and cooling systems should be replaced regularly, and with high quality filters that efficiently trap particulate matter. In-room air purifiers can provide additional filtration of allergens from the air children breath. Furthermore, keeping car and home windows shut as much as possible will reduce the pollen and dust entering these environments. Families should clean their homes frequently, and eliminate or reduce surfaces that can trap and hold allergens (e.g., coarse drapes, wall-to-wall carpeting, and stuffed animals). As well, the bags and filters within the family vacuum cleaner should be changed regularly.

Family pets, particularly those featuring feathers or fur (e.g., birds, dogs, cats), can be an unfortunate source of allergy-triggering material. It may become necessary to remove a pet from the home if its presence there triggers children's allergies. If this is the case, our hope is that the family will offer pets to a responsible local animal rescue group with a good track record of adopting out rescued animals rather than simply bringing them to the local animal shelter (which may simply kill pets after several days). Often, finding a good local rescue is as easy as typing your city's name into Google along with the words "dog rescue" or "cat rescue". If the pet is a particular breed, it is likely that a breed-specific rescue organization exists. In that case, include the animal's breed in with your rescue search terms (e.g., "Golden Retriever Rescue in [your location]").