Children are immunized and use so many antibacterial wipes, hand gels and soaps that their bodies are not able to defend themselves, said Dr. Michelle Weiss of the Family Center for Allergy and Asthma in York Township. The dilemma, known as the hygiene hypothesis, has led to a substantial increase in allergies over the years.“There are more people with allergies now than 10 to 15 years ago,” Weiss said. “When I was young, I didn’t know anyone with food allergies, and now we all know someone with food allergies.”
Weiss said if one parent has an allergy, there’s a 50 percent chance each child will develop allergies. If both parents have allergies, there’s a 75 percent chance.
The best way to decrease the chance is to breast-feed, said Ann deBien, a nurse practitioner at Allergy and Asthma Consultants in Spring Garden Township and Hanover. The milk coats the intestines, helping to keep food allergens out of the bloodstream. “It doesn’t give any guarantee that your child won’t have allergies,” deBien said. But, “it’s the best way that you can protect your child.”
Keisha Ricks, a mother of three in North Codorus Township, has a 3-year-old daughter allergic to chocolate and a 9-year-old son allergic to “everything outside,” she said. The doctors told her it’s easier to say what her son Dylan’s not allergic to — cockroaches.
Ricks said she noticed her son’s asthma could happen at any time, and that’s when she asked doctors if it could be linked to allergies. It was.
“Whenever we have patients come in with asthma … almost always they have a very strong allergy testing result,” deBien said. “It’s so hand in hand. It’s like what came first, the chicken or the egg?”
Children can be tested for specific allergies at birth or at any age, Weiss said. Specialists can put an extract of specific foods, pollen, etc., on a toothpick and touch it through the skin. If a bump or small rash presents itself, an allergy is confirmed.
Once Dylan’s allergies were confirmed, doctors prescribed medication to lessen his symptoms. Ricks keeps his allergy and asthma medicine on hand at all times. “Even when Dylan is outside playing, I notice I’m very protective even though I’ve given him his medicine,” Ricks said.
There are three ways to treat allergies. If the allergy is produced by an irritant in the environment, the patient might consider running the air conditioning in the summer, not hanging clothes out to dry and so on.
If the allergy cannot to be treated with environmental control, Weiss suggests over-the-counter medications, such as Zyrtec and Claritin. She cautions against the use of Benadryl. “There are lots of studies of people taking Benadryl at 10 at night,” Weiss said, “driving at 8 in the morning and doing worse than people who are legally drunk. They think they’re fine; they feel like they’re conscious.”
But Weiss said anyone driving under the influence of Benadryl can be charged with DUI of a sedative drug.
A third option is an allergy vaccine, which will change the immune system over the course of three to five years of shots. “It’s a very long, built-up process,” Weiss said. “It takes about a year for them to start working, but it can really help people feel better. In the end, it’s less medicine and less money.”
On the Web
Mom Lyzz Jones deals every day with the ups and downs of her 2-year-old daughter’s food allergies. She searches for discounts and coupons on organic and gluten-free foods, plus she shares recipes at www.yorkblog.com/foodfight.
Allergy: a predisposition to respond to harmful things called allergens, such as dust mites, pollen, pet dander, mold
Asthma: more than one episode of wheezing; could be attributed to allergies
Hygiene hypothesis: the idea that allergies are on the rise in westernized countries because the environment is so clean, children cannot develop antibodies to fight infections.
Allergic march: the thought that once you have one allergy, you could continue to get more as you age