Should you get your child tested for allergies?

May 15, 2023 | by Therese Gracey, M.D.
Categories: Healthy Driven Moms

Does your child sneeze or cough a lot, break out often in a rash or hives, or have stomachaches after eating certain foods? It could be allergies.

Allergy-related disorders are among the leading diagnoses of chronic diseases in children. Collectively, children with allergies miss hundreds of school days every year.

Any child can develop allergies, although the tendency to develop them often runs in families. Your child may also be more likely to have allergies if she has persistent asthma, frequent ear infections and eczema.

Kids can be allergic to a number of things, including medicines (e.g., penicillin), insect bites or stings, chemicals (e.g., perfumes), airborne irritants (e.g., dust mites, pollen, mold, pet dander), and certain foods (e.g., cow's milk, eggs, fish and shellfish, peanuts and tree nuts, soy and wheat).

How can you tell if it’s allergies or something else? Signs of allergies in kids may include:

  • Trouble breathing, wheezing (asthma)
  • Sneezing, coughing, runny nose
  • Itchy, watery eyes, itchy nose/throat
  • Hives, skin rashes (eczema)
  • Swelling
  • Hoarseness
  • Throat tightness
  • Stomach upset, vomiting, diarrhea

If your child is has any of these symptoms and they keep recurring, consult with your child’s pediatrician. The doctor can help manage mild allergies and, if needed, collaborate with an allergist for allergy testing to help determine what type of allergen might be causing the symptoms.

The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology lists conditions where allergy testing can be useful, such as adverse reactions to food, an insect bite or medication. Cold-like symptoms that last for more than a week and occur around the same time every year, and coughing and wheezing at night, are other red flags.

No age is too young to test for allergies. A visit to the allergist usually includes a medical and family history, physical exam and allergy sensitivity testing in the form of:

  • Skin tests – One common skin test applies a diluted allergen to the top layer of skin with a scratch or prick, another uses a very thin needle to inject the allergen just under the skin. The tested area of the skin is observed for about 15 minutes to see if a reaction develops.
  • Blood tests – Used when skin tests are hard to administer (e.g., for kids who take certain medicines).
  • Food tests – Used for kids with suspected food allergies. An allergist may give specific doses of food in a controlled environment to assess reactions. Another test involves a supervised weeklong diet that eliminates or isolates foods suspected to cause a reaction (elimination diet).

Based on the results of the testing, an allergist may recommend avoidance strategies, medication, diet modification and allergy shots.

If you suspect that your child has an allergy, don’t ignore it. Kids with severe allergies are at risk for a sudden, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis can happen just seconds after exposure to an allergen, or few hours later. Food allergies, which affect approximately 1 in 25 school-aged children, are the most common trigger of anaphylaxis in this age group.

A severe, rapid allergic reaction, such as any obstruction to breathing, calls for a dose of epinephrine administered with an auto-injector (e.g., EpiPen). A new study found caregivers often fail to administer epinephrine when children experience serious allergy attacks. Any child with a life-threatening allergy should carry an EpiPen at all times — and all caregivers should know how to recognize symptoms and use it.

Be on alert if these symptoms develop within two hours of your child coming into contact with an allergen: hives, difficulty breathing (lip swelling, tightening in the throat or lungs), vomiting or diarrhea.

A good rule of thumb is to administer epinephrine when two body systems are displaying reactions. Hives accompanied by vomiting, for instance. If you’re not sure, it’s better to give it than to wait.

Find an allergist near you.

Learn more about allergy services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Related blog:

Can food allergies in kids be prevented?


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