What parents need to know about allergies and the underlying causes.
Monday 31st March
With allergies on the rise in the UK, in both children and adults, it is easy to ask whether the underlying causes are genetic, environmental or simply due to better diagnostics methods.
In fact all of these elements have a role to play, according to Maureen Jenkins, director of clinical services at Allergy UK. “Over generations our immune systems have changed due to the lack of the close relationship with animals and the rural and natural environment,” she says.
The significant strides that have been made in the realm of healthcare and pharmaceuticals has also had an influence. Maureen cites “reduced exposure to dangerous infectious diseases and increased use of antibiotics” as another key factor in the rise in allergies that we are witnessing today.
When it comes to parents wanting the very best start for their child, they shouldn't worry unnecessarily, however. “Not unless they have an allergic child,” explains Maureen. “But all parents are advised to lead healthy lifestyles with maximum time in the natural outdoor environment.”
Another area for parents to focus on is good nutrition. Here, as ever, they should aim for a healthy balance with plenty of variety and fresh ingredients. It's best not to rely too heavily on processed food, ready meals and takeaways. “Diets that are predominantly processed may contribute to the increase in intolerances, if not allergies,” Maureen adds.
In many instances, children will gradually grow out of an allergy or will find that their symptoms become less marked. This can even be the case with a food allergy or intolerance, but your doctor or health visitor will be able to give specific advice for each individual child.
“Some infants with less severe forms of milk or egg allergy will outgrow it with age,” agrees Maureen.
Diagnosing an allergy
With allergies in children, the first step is getting a diagnosis. Allergy UK advises any parent whose child is experiencing symptoms of an allergy to visit their GP and ask for a referral to an allergy consultant in a specialist allergy clinic. You can get further advice about the referral process, as well as details of your nearest allergy clinic, by calling the Allergy UK helpline.
Once a child is diagnosed, you will be able to seek advice on treatment, managing symptoms, and reducing your child's exposure to the allergen (or substance) that is causing the reaction. As there are so many different forms of allergy, you will need to seek specific advice from your doctor, a pharmacist or specialist.
For further information about childhood allergies, Allergy UK operates a helpline on 01332 619898.
Members of benenden health can call the 24-hour GP advice lineto talk to a doctor about any health concerns they may have.