Achoo! Every time you go near your best friend's cat, your
and you start
up a storm. And every spring and fall, your dad gets a
when he takes you for hikes in the woods. What's going on?
Well, you and your dad may have allergies.
-ur-jee) is your immune system's reaction to certain plants,
, or other things. Your immune system protects you from diseases by
like bacteria and viruses, but when you have allergies, it
overreacts and tries to "fight" ordinary things like
grass, pollen, or certain foods. This causes the sneezing, itching,
and other reactions that you get with allergies.
The substances that cause allergies (grass, pollen, foods, pet
by-products, insects, etc.) are called
-ur-jenz). When your immune (say: ih-
) system reacts to one of these allergens and you have symptoms,
you are allergic to it.
What Causes the Sneezing and Wheezing?
You can be allergic to many things. Some of the common allergens
- dust mites (tiny insects that live in dust)
- a protein found in the dander (dry skin), saliva (spit),
urine (pee), or other things from some animals
- grass, flower, and tree pollen (the fine dust from
- mold and mildew (small living things that grow in damp
- foods, such as milk, wheat, soy, eggs, nuts, seafood, and
legumes (say: leh-
), which include peas, beans, and peanuts
- latex (stretchy stuff that some of the gloves doctors and
dentists use are made of)
Some of these allergens cause sneezing, a runny nose, itchy eyes
and ears, and a sore throat. Other items on the list, such as
, may cause
(a red, bumpy, itchy skin rash), a stuffy nose, stomach cramps,
. Less often, allergens can cause breathing problems like wheezing
and shortness of breath (asthma). Some allergens, such as foods,
are a problem all year long. But others might bother people only
during certain seasons. For instance, you might be allergic to
pollen from trees, which is present in the air only in the
Why Do Some Kids Get Allergies?
People may be born with a
-tik) tendency to have allergies, which means they are more likely
to get them than other people are. Many allergies are
-dih-tare-ee) - passed to kids in the
they get from their parents - so you have a better chance of having
allergies if your mom or dad or other people in your family have
them. People can develop allergies when they are babies, children,
teens, or adults, although allergies often decrease in older
Many people outgrow food allergies. Other allergies can last
your whole life, although they may be less severe and more severe
at different points in your life.
Colds vs. Allergies
Sometimes it's difficult to tell the difference between a
and an allergy because the symptoms can be similar. If your cold
symptoms last more than 2 weeks, you probably have an allergy
instead of a cold.
There are other differences between colds and allergies you can
look for. With allergies, your nose and eyes itch. Colds don't
itch. The mucus, the stuff that comes from your nose or that you
cough up, is different, too. With allergies, it's clear like
water. With a cold, it's usually yellowish and thick.
How Do I Find Out if I Have Allergies?
If you sneeze and itch a lot, wheeze, or often get sick after
eating a certain food, your
may want to check you for allergies. He or she will ask you a lot
of questions about your health, about the animals and plants in
your home, and about the foods you eat. Your answers will provide
clues about what you might be allergic to, and your doctor may ask
you to stay away from a pet or stop eating a certain food to see if
your symptoms go away.
Your doctor may send you to an
ur-jist), a special doctor who helps people who have allergies. An
allergist may give you a scratch test to see if a tiny bit of an
allergen will cause a reaction on your skin. You'll feel a
quick pinch when the doctor makes the scratch or scratches. If
you're allergic, one or more spots will become bumpy, itchy,
and red - like a mosquito bite.
Some doctors may also test your blood to look for IgE, a
substance called an antibody (say:
-tie-bah-dee) that signals an allergic reaction. If you have large
amounts of this antibody in your blood, you are probably allergic
to the allergen.
Your doctor will probably suggest ways to stay away from the
allergen or prescribe a
for you to try. Allergy medicine can be pills, liquids, or even
sprays for your nose. If your allergies aren't too bad or if
you can avoid the allergen completely, you might not need to take
medicine - staying away from the allergen might be enough to
control your allergy.
If your symptoms don't get better by staying away from
allergens and taking medicines, an allergist might recommend
allergy shots. These shots make your immune system less sensitive
to the allergens and can make your symptoms better.
Unfortunately, shots and most medicines don't help with food
allergies. People with food allergies have to learn to avoid any
foods that have the ingredients they're allergic to. Your
parents and your doctor can help you read the ingredients on
. Luckily, many kids outgrow allergies to milk, eggs, wheat, and
soy. But allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, and seafood usually
Fighting on the Allergy Front
You may not be able to control your allergies completely, but
you can do yourself a favor by avoiding anything that causes your
If you are allergic to an animal, you might have to find a new home
for your pet. If you can't do that, it can help to keep pets
out of your bedroom, have someone bathe them once a week, or have
the animal live outside. You'll also want to avoid pets at
other people's homes.
If dust mites are your trouble, your mom or dad can use special
covers for your bed and wash your sheets and blankets in very hot
water to get rid of them. Keeping your room neat and clean also
will help. Store stuffed animals or other stuff that attracts dust
somewhere other than your room.
If you have food allergies, always read food labels to check the
ingredients and learn the different names for the food allergen. If
you're not sure about a food, don't eat it. Instead, ask a
grownup if it's safe. Your mom or dad can help teach you which
foods and ingredients you should avoid.
Also, your parents can help you pack safe snacks for occasions
away from home when everyone else might be having something you
can't, such as peanut butter ice cream. Then, instead of
feeling left out, you can snack along with your friends - without
risking an allergy attack and, even worse, having to go home
Updated and reviewed by:
Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: November 2007
Originally reviewed by:
Stephen J. McGeady, MD
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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