Every fall, 5-year-old Timmy develops a runny nose, itchy, puffy eyes, and attacks of sneezing. His mother shares the problem, which she dismisses as mild hay fever, and something her son has to learn to live with. Lately, however, Timmy has also suffered attacks of wheezing and shortness of breath when he visits his grandmother and plays with her cats.
Timmy’s pediatrician suspects allergic asthma, and wants him to undergo some tests. Timmy’s symptoms are by no means rare among children across the United States. Allergies and asthma often start in childhood and continue throughout life. Although neither can be cured, with proper care they can usually be kept under control. Allergies are caused by the body’s reaction to substances called “allergens,” which trigger the immune system to react to harmless substances as though they were attacking the body.
When to Suspect an Allergy
Some allergies are easy to identify by the pattern of symptoms that follows exposure to a particular substance. But others are subtler, and may masquerade as other conditions. Here are some common clues that could lead you to suspect your child may have an allergy. Repeated or chronic cold-like symptoms that last more than a week or two, or that develop at about the same time every year. These could include:
- Runny nose
- Nasal stuffiness
- Throat clearing
- Nose rubbing
- Itchy, runny eyes
Itching or tingling sensations in the mouth and throat. Itchiness is not usually a complaint with a cold, but it is the hallmark of an allergy problem. Coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing, and other respiratory symptoms. Recurrent red, itchy, dry, sometime scalyrashes in the creases of the skin, wrists, and ankles also may indicate an allergy.