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Learning to Deal with Allergies

January 7, 2013


Allergies and asthma are serious business.

Dr. Michael Welch


Allergy and Asthma Medical Group and Research Center

If Orange County mom Linda Marienoff Coss had not been so alert, her trip to the children’s museum might have turned into a trip to the emergency room.

According to Coss, there was a mock archaeological dig where kids could pretend to look for dinosaur bones, but the dirt didn’t look “normal.”

“Luckily I didn’t allow my son to play in it,” Coss says. “As it turned out, it was all walnut shells, which my son is very allergic to.”

Vacaville mother Teri Greene says when she took her son Rick, then age 5, to a party, where he started coughing and wheezing. At first, they didn’t know the cause, but discovered it was the smoke coming from the barbecue.

Since the time Rick was 5 months old, he has been sensitive to smoke, dust and intense cold or heat.

“It has been a learning process,” Greene says.

Like Coss and Greene, many parents have had to learn about things that trigger allergic reactions. The most common are mildew, mold, dust, pollen, pet dander and certain foods.

Warning signs

Although allergy and asthma are closely related, they are two different diseases, according to Leslie Seltzer, family nurse practitioner at a Gardena community clinic.

“If the child is suffering from a constant dry cough, runny nose, or has itchy eyes, itchy ears, or a tickly throat, they may be showing signs of an allergy,” Seltzer says. “Asthma causes wheezing and difficulty breathing.”

Common allergy symptoms include:

  • The allergic shiner: Dark circles under the eyes—may be caused by a lack of oxygen or contact with allergy triggers.
  • The allergic salute: Results from constant rubbing of nose in an upward motion.
  • Mouth breathing: A sign that the nose is stuffed up. More severe symptoms may be caused by asthma.
  • Noticeable wheezing: Child may be breathless during activities or want to rest often.

Greene, whose son suffers from both allergies and asthma, warns parents that the symptoms you are told about may not be the only symptoms your child has.

“The key is to compare past episodes with new ones,” Greene says. “You learn to hear when the child’s cough sounds really bad and to be aware that this time might be a serious episode.”

First steps

When a child first shows signs of allergies, try over-the-counter medicines, says Dr. Michael Welch, co-director of the Allergy and Asthma Medical Group and Research Center in San Diego.

“If that doesn’t alleviate the problem, or if those make the child sleepy, take him or her to the doctor,” Welsch says. “Get them medical attention, because it is treatable.”

He notes that untreated allergies can lead to more serious problems, like asthma, which can be life-threatening if not controlled. He says that many children who live in the inner cities tend to suffer from a high rate of cockroach allergies, which can cause asthma and irritation of the nose.

“The best thing to do is talk with the landlord about exterminating the roaches,” Welsch says. “Don’t let your kids just deal with it. Allergies and asthma are serious business.”

Reducing triggers

Dozens of California organizations help parents deal with children’s allergies. Some send community health workers to visit homes.

“We look for allergy triggers like carpeting, pets and plants,” says Felicia Jones, asthma coordinator of Los Angeles-based Healthy African American Families. “We help parents with how to cut down on these triggers.”

Fighting dust: Jones says it’s very important to cut down on dust—so vacuuming every week is a must. But, keep the child out of the room for 45 minutes after vacuuming, and change the vacuum bag regularly, Jones adds.

To reduce dust, wash stuffed animals in hot water every two weeks, says Irene Mineses, a community health worker at the Long Beach Alliance for Children with Asthma.

“Also, keeping a child’s bed area free of dust is very important,” Mineses says. “Pillow and mattress covers are easy to find and are a great benefit to the child.”

Cleaning carefully: Los Angeles mother Elizabeth Hernandez has found relief for her 2-month-old daughter’s skin allergies with routine cleaning and common materials.

“I dust more often and wash her sheets daily with Ivory non-scented detergent,” she says. “I also use hydrogen peroxide.”

Or clean with vinegar, not bleach or other strong chemicals.

Reducing smoke: Avoid smoking in the house or car, says Dorothy Vura-Weiss, assistant health officer at the San Mateo County Health Department.

If you do smoke, “remove that clothing before coming in contact with the child,” she says.

Dealing with pollen and weather: Greene taught her son a few tips for controlling asthma outdoors.

“If it is really windy outside while he’s at school, I tell him to either go to the library or to play on the other side of buildings to block the wind,” Greene says. “If he is outside in the cold, he knows to breathe into his jacket or gloves. That way he avoids the trigger and still feels normal. It just looks like he’s trying to stay warm.”

Greene’s son also takes medication to reduce allergic reactions.

More tips:

  • Avoid outdoor activities between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. when pollen counts are highest.
  • Check the pollen count in the local weather report or at
  • Save outdoor activities for wet afternoons when pollen counts are lowest.
  • Have your child shower after being outside on high-pollen days.
  • Dry clothes indoors, to reduce pollen collection.

Choosing food: Stockton mom Alison Willy deals with her daughter’s food allergies with time-tested solutions.

“Avoidance is the best method,” Willy says. “We buy organic produce when we can and grow our own summer vegetables.”

Staying alert: “Trust your instincts and ask a lot of questions,” Willy says. “The solution that is right for you and your child is just as likely to come from a stranger as from your doctor.”

Keeping alert and being informed can prove to be beneficial.

“The key is really figuring out what your child’s triggers are and how to cope with them in a realistic way without your child feeling deprived,” Greene says.

Originally written by Elyce Petker.