Common Allergies in Children


Spader, Catherine, RN

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If your child itches, sneezes or has rashes, allergies could be the problem. Children often have more than one allergy but outgrow many of them. Recognizing and treating your child’s allergies can prevent serious problems and help keep your child happy and healthy.

Allergic Rhinitis (Hay Fever)

Hay fever is the most common childhood allergy. Dust, mold, pollen, cockroaches, and animal dander often cause allergy symptoms in children. Symptoms can include sneezing, cough, and an itchy, runny or stuffy nose.

Your best plan for tackling hay fever is to avoid common allergens. If your child’s hay fever affects their daily living, including sports and school, your pediatrician can recommend medications such as:

  • Antihistamines to relieve rashes, sneezing, itchy eyes, and runny nose

  • Decongestants to relieve stuffy nose

  • Corticosteroids to relieve runny and stuffy nose and sneezing caused by inflammation

  • Leukotriene modifiers to reduce allergy-induced asthma and stuffy nose

  • Saline nasal sprays to restore moisture and help clear nasal secretions

Your child may be a candidate for allergy shots, which work like a vaccination to prevent allergic reactions. Your child’s body develops a tolerance for the allergens to which he or she is allergic; however, allergy shots are not available for food allergies.

Food Allergies

Food allergies in children are not easy to live with because it can be difficult to avoid the offending food. The good news is that life-threatening allergic reactions are rare and most children with food allergies outgrow them.

Symptoms of food allergies in children vary. They can include digestive symptoms, such as vomiting and diarrhea, or skin rashes, a runny nose, or even shortness of breath. Any food can potentially cause a food allergy, but most childhood food allergies are caused by:

  • Eggs, which you can find in many dishes in addition to typical breakfast foods, such as pancakes, french toast, and baked goods

  • Fish, including fish oil, imitation fish, and seafood flavoring

  • Milk, which is a common ingredient in dairy foods, such as yogurt, ice cream, and cheese

  • Peanuts, including peanut oil, nut-containing candy, and various sauces and prepared foods

  • Shellfish, including shrimp, crab, and lobster

  • Soy, including soy protein, milk, nuts, and sauce, tofu, and textured vegetable protein

  • Tree nuts, including almonds, walnuts, cashews, and pecans

  • Wheat, including all-purpose flour, wheat germ, and wheat bran

What Is Allergy-Induced Asthma?

Allergies commonly trigger narrowing of the airways and shortness of breath in children with asthma. This is called allergy-induced asthma. Other symptoms include wheezing, chest tightness, coughing, and flared nostrils.

Food allergies trigger asthma attacks most commonly in infants. Allergies to dust, mold, and animal dander are frequent asthma triggers in toddlers and older children.

Early and consistent treatment of your child’s asthma can prevent and reduce the severity of asthma attacks. Treatment includes avoiding allergens and medications:

  • Inhaled bronchodilators to provide quick symptom relief by relaxing and opening your child’s narrowed airways. Some bronchodilators are longer acting and prevent symptoms as well.

  • Inhaled corticosteroids to provide long-term control of symptoms by reducing airway inflammation

  • Immunomodulators to reduce the allergic response over the long term

  • Leukotriene modifiers to provide long-term allergy and asthma symptom control


Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is an allergic skin condition that is most common in babies and children. Eczema occurs when your child’s skin is overly sensitive to certain substances (allergens). Typical allergens include pollen and animal dander. Symptoms of eczema include patches of itchy, flaky, and red skin. Symptoms typically come and go and may disappear in adulthood.

There is no cure for eczema, but you can help your child control symptoms by avoiding:

  • Allergens that trigger symptoms. Tests can help confirm your child’s specific allergens.

  • Chlorinated swimming pools. If you are interested in swimming, you may want to find pools in your area that use salt water instead of chlorine to sanitize the water.

  • Dry skin. Use lotion designed specifically for sensitive (and dry) skin.

  • Scratchy clothes. Avoid wool garments. Soft cotton, including organic cotton is comforting to the skin.

  • Perfumed products. Use an oatmeal-based soap to help relieve itching and inflammation

In some cases, your child’s eczema may be severe enough to warrant medication. Medication treatment may include:

  • Antihistamines to reduce itching. Many different antihistamines are available without a prescription.

  • Corticosteroid cream to reduce inflammation. Over-the-counter and prescription corticosteroid creams are available.

What Problems Can Allergies Cause in Children?

Because your child’s allergies may come and go, it is not uncommon for allergies to be overlooked. But left untreated, childhood allergies can lead to problems such as:

  • Abnormal growth of the teeth and the bones of the face due to nasal congestion and mouth breathing

  • Poor sleeping and fatigue

  • Increased risk of some infections, such as skin and ear infections, which may affect hearing and speech

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Missing school

  • Poor school performance

  • Severe asthma attacks