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Dealing with Allergic Reactions in Infants and Toddlers



Allergic reactions occur when a person’s immune system attacks an allergen. An allergic reaction can happen when a person touches, smells, eats or has a substance injected. This happens because the body mistakenly thinks this substance is dangerous to the body and releases chemicals called “histamines” to fend off this danger.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that in 2011, 4.5 percent of children under the age of 18 had a food allergy, 10.7 percent had a skin allergy, and 16.6 percent had hay fever or a respiratory allergy. (BabyCenter.com)

Food Allergies in Infants and Toddlers

Common food allergies for infants and toddlers can include:

  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Peanuts
  • Wheat
  • Soy
  • Tree nuts (eg: walnuts, Brazil nuts – hazelnuts, cashews)
  • Fish (eg: tuna, salmon, cod)
  • Shellfish (eg: lobster, shrimp, crab)

Food allergies in infants and toddlers can range from mild to severe (anaphylactic). Symptoms can include:

  • Hives, in addition to other symptoms
  • Swelling of the tongue, lips, or throat
  • Wheezing, brassy-sounding cough, difficulty breathing
  • Tightness in the chest or throat
  • Vomiting, diarrhea or stomach cramps

Minor reactions may show up as long as up to two hours after eating a particular food. More severe reactions will appear within 30 to 60 minutes, and can be life threatening. If your baby is having a severe allergic reaction (eg: swelling of the lips, tongue, throat), your focus should be on keeping her airway open until help can arrive. “Your baby’s airway can close up within minutes, so don’t call the doctor to get advice or drive her to the emergency room. You need paramedics on the scene as soon as possible.” (Babycenter.com)

Once you’ve called paramedics, immediately give your child epinephrine (EpiPen). This shot should be given into the outer part of the upper thigh. If you don’t have an EpiPen, find an antihistamine. Benadryl is a common brand, but any antihistamine will do. If you have an EpiPen, give this antihistamine in addition to the epinephrine. It is also suggested that “if your child had a life-threatening reaction in the past and now has been re-exposed to the same allergic substance…give the epinephrine BEFORE your child develops symptoms. Epinephrine will not hurt your child even if he is not having an allergic reaction and it could save his or her life.” (Schmitt)

If allergy symptoms appear consistently at around two hours after eating a certain food, it’s probably a good idea to check with your family doctor, who can refer you to an allergist to find out what your baby’s allergic to.

The only way to prevent allergic reactions from occurring is to avoid contact with the food. So it is very important that you become label-conscious and read the ingredients and coatings of the food you eat. Keep an EpiPen on hand at all times, several if you need to, in different areas of the house or homes where your child frequently goes. Getting your child a medical alert bracelet will also help others know what to do to help your child if he has a reaction when you’re not there.

Skin Allergies in Infants and Toddlers

Hives are red or white raised welts on the skin. They can appear out of nowhere and spread across the chest, tummy, and back, but also on arms and legs. The welts may come and go over a period of 10 to 15 minutes and they’re usually—though not always—itchy.

On their own, hives aren’t usually something that require medical attention. Children can get hives in relation to illnesses, foods, medications, or an external irritant (eg: shampoo, laundry detergent, fabric softener).

Because hives are an allergic reaction, meaning the body is producing histamines to fend off what it thinks is a dangerous invader, you need to administer an anti-histamine, such as Benadryl. Do not wait to give Benadryl to see if the hives go away on their own. Give Benadryl every 6 hours as needed. Hives will usually last between 24 and 48 hours, although they can come and go over the course of several weeks. Hives are not usually associated with serious internal allergic reactions.

If the hives are accompanied by wheezing, difficulty breathing, extreme weakness, paleness, throat tightness and vomiting, then you need to call 9-1-1, or whatever your local emergency number is. “If none of the above signs of a severe allergic reaction occur, but your child has swelling of the hands, feet, or face, or the hives are all over the body, and they don’t improve within 2 hours after Benadryl, see your doctor right away, or go to the ER if it is after hours. (Dr. Sears)

Environmental (Nasal) Allergies in Infants and Toddlers

The most common environmental or nasal allergies are:

  • Dust mites – which affect 85% of allergy sufferers
  • Animal dander – white flaky specks of skin and hair shed by cats, dogs and other animals
  • Pollen
  • Mold

Substances like dust or sawdust or grass cuttings can be irritants and cause allergy like symptoms, but it does not mean someone is allergic to them.

Because colds and nasal allergies appear very similar, it can be difficult to tell the difference between them.

1)      Does it seem like your child’s cold never goes away?

2)      Is your child’s nose constantly stuffed up or running like a faucet?

3)      Does she continually wiggle, wipe, or push her nose up?

4)      Is the nasal discharge (mucus, snot) clear and thin?

5)      Does she sneeze a lot?

6)      Are her eyes itchy, red, and teary?

7)      Is the skin under her eyes dark or purple or blue (like a black eye)?

8)      Does she breathe through her mouth?

9)      Does she have a persistent dry cough?

10)   Does her skin appear irritated or broken out in an itchy red rash?

Answering, yes, to one or more of these questions means your child likely has an allergy to something in her environment – home, school, car. Children with nasal allergies are more likely to experience ear infections, asthma, and sinus infections, so it is important to keep track of and monitor symptoms, and seek treatment options for managing symptoms.

Darlene Oakley is a freelance writer for EmpowHER.com.


Allergies. BabyCenter.com. Web. June 29, 2012.


Food allergies. BabyCenter.com. Web. June 29, 2012.


Allergic Reaction, Severe. Schmitt, Barton, D. Children’s Physician Network. Web. June 29, 2012.


Hives. Dr. Sears. Web. June 29, 2012.


Related Links:

Care for babies with food allergies lagging: study


Children and Food Allergies. Boyle, Aimee.


Are Certain Vaccines Safe for Children with Allergies? Smith, Jody.


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