Allergies are very common and increasing in most parts of the Western world. There are many and varied causes and symptoms that affect allergies.
An allergy is an overreaction of the immune system to a substance that’s harmless to most people. This can result in symptoms that can be anywhere from annoying to life threatening.
Foods such as milk, eggs, fish, peanuts, shellfish, soy, tree nuts, and wheat. Other allergies include insects, animal hair, medications, dust mites, pollen and mould.
Reactions can occur in the following parts of the body, such as:
Nose and/or eyes – hay fever
Skin – eczema, hives
Lungs – asthma.
It is imperative you are fully aware and updated on any type of allergy a child you look after has.
You should make sure you have a detailed understanding of the symptoms which can occur and an action plan in the event of a child needing treatment or medical attention.
Being aware means knowing that if someone is allergic to a food, that you always must check for traces of the substance in different forms.
For example, having a nut allergy means no peanut butter, satay sauce or anything cooked in peanut oil, such as many Asian foods. It can also be present in chocolate bars, muesli bars, cereal or pastries.
Sesame allergy means no hummus, falafel, or certain lollies. Sesame can also have traces in biscuits, trail mixes, chocolate bars, processed meats and baked goods such as bagels and cakes.
Having allergies is not a reason to:
Exclude children from playing with others
Only give them “boring” foods
Allow for behavioural issues
Remember, it is not easy for a child to have an allergy never mind the social exclusions that could go with it. It is your job to help them adapt to every situation the best you can.
Be prepared – have a plan!
Be sure to inquire about allergies before babysitting any new children.
If there are serious allergies, parents should provide with a plan of action including foods to avoid and what to do should a child be exposed to an allergen.
What is Anaphylaxis?
Anaphylaxis is the most severe form of an allergic reaction and it is life-threatening. A reaction can develop within minutes of exposure to the allergen, but with planning and training, a reaction can be treated effectively.
Learning to use an adrenaline injection such as an EpiPen®/EpiPen®Jr or Anapen®/Anapen® Jr. can be a life-saving skill. An adrenaline injection will counteract the body going into shock when exposed to a severe allergen. This will keep a person breathing and their heart beating until medical services can arrive. If you know a child you care for is anaphylactic, it is vital that you carry an EpiPen® with you at all times in case they have an allergic reaction to food, stings, or other allergens.
Check this video for more information about Anaphylaxis
Asthma affects over 300 million people in the world, both adults and children. Asthma is a result of sensitive breathing airways in response to certain triggers. The muscles in the airways can tighten and become inflamed, making it difficult or impossible to breathe. Typical asthma symptoms are wheezing, tightness in the chest, coughing and shortness of breath.
There are various levels of severity in asthma cases. It is sometimes compared to trying to breathe through a straw when your airways are constricted.
An asthma attack can be brought on by physical exertion, or exposure to allergens including animal hair, dust, smoke, grasses or pollens.
Asthma can also be triggered by a cold virus or a change in weather conditions. An asthma attack can be a life-threatening event. In case of an attack, help your child get into a comfortable position and administer their asthma medicine according to instructions.
The first step in treating asthma is prevention. If a child does have an asthma flare-up, they will likely use an inhaler to treat it.
Watch this short video about asthma and how to use an asthma inhaler:
A food allergy is an abnormal immune response to foods which are harmless to someone else. Treat symptoms very seriously, as they can be life-threatening.
The most common food intolerances are caused by:
Many dairy products
Food additives (including flavour additives and MSG)
Wheat and other glutens
Strawberries, kiwi, citrus fruit, tomatoes
Nuts and legumes
Fish and shellfish
Red wine and other foods containing histamines.
Common symptoms include:
Itching, burning and swelling around the mouth
Skin rash (eczema)
Hives (urticaria – skin becomes red and raised)
Diarrhoea, abdominal cramps
Breathing difficulties, including wheezing and asthma
If a child has Coeliac disease, he or she is not able to digest and absorb gluten into their body.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats that causes severe abdominal pain and irritation.
People with the Coeliac disease need to eat a gluten-free diet, which usually excludes eating bread and pasta other than gluten-free varieties.
Click here for more information on Coeliac disease and support around the world.
Food allergies and labelling
When dealing with a child with food allergies, it is important to read all labels and packaging to ensure the safety of a product. Many labels will state whether the product is nut-free, gluten-free, dairy-free and so on.
If you aren’t sure if a food product is safe to give an allergic child, err on the side of caution and don’t give it!
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