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Common allergies in toddlers

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Tesco Loves Baby expert Dr Carol Cooper takes a look at some common allergies in toddlers and what you can do to help them.

Allergies come in many forms but in toddlers, asthma, eczema and food allergy are the most common – and because of the way the immune system develops, hay fever usually won’t appear until after the age of three. Allergic reactions can resemble the inflammation that’s linked with infection. Symptoms like rash, tummy ache or wheezing may be signs of an allergic reaction so look out for these too.

Asthma

Asthma becomes more common from the age of two, but even babies can have it. Typical symptoms are a cough, wheezing and breathlessness, which tend to be worse at night. Colds may go to the chest and your tot may cough or wheeze in cold weather or after exercise.

It’s hard to diagnose asthma based on one episode, especially as tots can wheeze during common infections, but a series of attacks could suggest asthma. If you suspect your child has asthma, seek advice from your doctor.

The good news is that many children outgrow asthma by puberty.

How you can help:

  • Try to identify your toddler’s triggers. Is it set off by infection or allergens like house dust mites, pollen or animal dander on pet fur?
  • Use prescribed inhalers to prevent attacks and control symptoms.
  • Know what to do if your toddler has a bad attack. If symptoms are due to allergy, make sure you have your tot’s medications at all times (eg inhalers, antihistamines or Epi-Pens – auto-injectors of adrenalin). Also make sure your child’s nursery or childminder knows how to cope.

Eczema

Eczema is common in toddlers. The main treatment is emollients to soothe and keep the skin moist. Some children may need additional treatments, such as steroid creams, from time to time – these would be prescribed by your GP.

How you can help:

  • As with asthma, try to identify and reduce exposure to allergens.
  • Know what to do when your tot’s eczema symptoms are severe.
  • Frequently apply the emollient cream, even if you don’t see a flare up.
  • Your doctor can prescribe stronger steroid creams for severe eczema.

Food allergy

Food allergy is an immune reaction to certain foods – approximately two to eight percent of children have a food allergy. The most common ‘triggers’ are cow’s milk, egg, soya, peanuts and tree nuts, fish and shellfish. Allergic reactions can be immediate and even life-threatening.

Symptoms include:

  • Widespread itching
  • A rash (like hives)
  • Swollen lips
  • Vomiting
  • Tummy ache
  • Diarrhoea
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • An asthma attack
  • Or even collapse.

Symptoms can be more subtle: tummy ache or vomiting within two hours of eating a particular food can also indicate an allergic reaction. Always get urgent help if your child shows sign of breathing difficulty or becomes floppy and unresponsive, as specialised medication should be given at once. Less serious reactions, such as skin irritation and diarrhoea can sometimes appear days after exposure to a trigger food.

For more information on allergies, or if you're worried that your child has an allergy, visit Allergy UK

Did you know the most common ‘trigger’ foods are cow’s milk, egg, soya, peanuts and tree nuts, fish and shellfish?