It’s easy to know when an older child is suffering from allergies because they can tell you themselves. However, it can be much more difficult to diagnose allergies in infants. In fact, many parents will misidentify allergy symptoms, such as a runny nose or upset stomach, as a cold or simply a fussy baby.
So how can you tell if your infant is suffering from allergies or a cold? Before you can begin treating the symptoms, it is important to identify what an allergy is.
What Are Allergies?
When your child has an allergic reaction, it’s a result of his or her immune system reacting inappropriately to a harmless substance, such as pollen. Essentially, the immune system thinks the substance is a parasite, virus or bacteria. Because of this, the immune system produces too much of a protective protein called antibodies, which causes swelling and inflammation of tissues.
What Causes Allergies?
Knowing what causes your child’s allergies can be critical to keeping symptoms at bay. For instance, if your child is allergic to an airborne allergen that appears in the spring, you can be better prepared when that time comes.
Microscopic insects that live all around us, more commonly known as dust mites, are a very common allergen that make up house dust. Unfortunately, these mites are around all year long and live in bedding, upholstery and carpets.
Pollen, often called hay fever or rose fever, is another highly popular allergen that lives in the air. Tiny particles of this allergen are released into the air by trees, weeds and grasses.
Living both indoors and outdoors in warm, moist environments, molds are fungi that can also cause severe allergies. Often you can find mold in outdoor areas with poor drainage like a pile of rotting leaves or compost piles. Inside, you may find mold in areas that are dark and poorly ventilated such as a basement. While mold is season, it can also grow year-round occasionally.
Finally, pets are notorious for causing symptoms with allergy sufferers. Pet dander and (protein particles from) animal saliva from the animals in your home can float around in the air causing allergies. Make sure your pet visits the groomer often and is bathed regularly.
Is It a Cold Or Allergies?
Thin, watery nasal discharge may indicate allergies, while a runny nose accompanied by cloudy nasal discharge and a fever is likely to be a cold.
Difficulty getting rid of a cough can be symptomatic of allergies. Because the muscles of an infant’s airways have spasms and swell when he or she is suffering from allergies, it can lead to a dry hacking cough. This can easily be misdiagnosed as a lower respiratory tract infection, so it’s important to note other symptoms your infant is experiencing with this.
Although newborns are prone to rashes, they usually stop around 2 or 3 months of age, which is around the same time allergic rashes tend to appear. Atopic dermatitis, or eczema, is the most common allergic rash. This is a red, scaly rash that usually appears on the cheeks, torso, arms and legs of babies.
Although a virus can cause vomiting, diarrhea and gassiness, these can also be symptoms of allergies. If your infant has an environmental allergy, he or she may swallow phlegm, which can irritate the stomach.
How Are Allergies Diagnosed In Infants?
Normally, children can begin allergy testing by the age of two months; however, the younger the child, the more difficult it may be to interpret the test results since the immune system is so immature. Typically allergy testing in infants included either a blood test or a skin test.
Normally the blood tests are reserved for children with skin conditions or those who are extremely sensitive to a specific allergen. Skin tests, on the other hand, are usually used to identify environmental allergens. For a skin test, the allergen is dropped onto the skin (or injected just under it in some instances) in a purified liquid form. After 15 minutes, the skin will be observed again to see if a lump appears at the site. If this happens, the test is positive.
How To Treat Allergy Symptoms in Babies
The best way to relieve your infant’s allergy symptoms is by a skin moisturizer, such as 1 percent hydrocortisone cream, and oral antihistamines (Benadryl is a great option). Once symptoms are alleviated, you will likely want to make changes to your child’s environment to prevent issues in the future.
Can You Prevent Allergies?
While it’s impossible to completely prevent allergies, there are several ways to help your child avoid symptoms. For example, if possible, breastfeed your infant until he or she is six months old. If you’re unable to breastfeed, use a formula that is made up of hypoallergenic protein hydrolysate. This type of formula is normally undetectable by the immune system.
Making small changes to your baby’s environment can also make a big difference. Never allow smoking in your home, not even when your child is out of the house. Use only wood or tile flooring as carpet can collect allergens. Use dust-mite-proof mattress covers and pillowcases in your child’s room. Finally, try to keep the concentration of dust, mold and feathers in your home to a minimum by cleaning regularly.
If you believe your infant is suffering from allergy symptoms, consider a skin moisturizer for rashes or an oral antihistamine, such as Benadryl, for other symptoms. If symptoms persist, consider taking him or her to see a medical professional for a proper diagnosis. At Medical City Children’s Urgent Care, our team is highly qualified in pediatrics and will treat your child with the utmost care.
Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions or deciding if medical advice is right for you or your child.