What Is An Allergy?
Allergies are a reaction to allergens, a name given to that substance such as pollen that sparks off symptoms of an allergy in someone who is sensitive to it.
An allergy is everything from a runny nose, itchy eyes and palate to a skin rash. It aggravates the sense of smell, sight, tastes and touch causing irritation, extreme disability and sometimes fatality. It occurs when the body’s immune system overreacts to normally harmless substances.
Allergy is widespread and affects approximately one in four of the population in the UK at some time in their lives. Each year the numbers are increasing by 5% with as many as half of all sufferers being children.
Symptoms of an allergy tend to show up in/on the parts of the body that are exposed to the allergen. An airborne allergen like pollen makes its severest impact on the eyes, nose and air passages.
There are three basic forms of allergic reaction affecting the skin. The most common especially among children is eczema. Dermatitis is a particular type of eczema affecting adults. This is caused by direct skin contact with certain allergens.
Eye and ear allergies
Allergic reactions can also affect the eyes. These generally show up as irritation and redness in the white of the eye. Severe swellings can occur but, but more often than not the symptoms are watering and soreness.
The ears are also often affected by allergens, when this happens the fluid will build up inside the ear and may temporarily affect your hearing.
Hay fever can affect the eyes and ears through its principal target is the nose, which becomes stuffy, runny or sneezy. Some people suffer from symptoms that are similar to those of hay fever and will suffer with them all year round. They may have a stuffy, runny nose virtually all the time, although it will often be worse indoors, particularly at night and early morning. This condition is called Perennial rhinitis and can be the result of a common house dust mite.
Food allergies and food intolerance
These have a wide variety of symptoms. The most obvious symptoms of an acute food allergy are a stomach upset followed quickly by nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea. People who are acutely sensitive to food may also get swollen tongue and lips.
Sometimes the suffering gets 2 kinds of symptoms; for instance, a child who is allergic to cow’s milk may get diarrhoea and a skin rash. Apart from skin rashes, which may appear hours or even days later after eating the food these symptoms become apparent almost immediately after eating, usually within an hour.
This makes it quite easy for the sufferer to identify the allergen. Recurrent tummy pains and hyperactivity in children have been attributed to food allergies.
The most severe – though fortunately, quite rare – symptom caused by an allergy is anaphylaxis. In this instance, the patient’s air passages swell and close and the blood pressure falls abruptly. This is an acute and life-threatening condition, though it can be reversed very quickly by injection of adrenaline.
The basic difference between people who suffer from allergies and those who do not is still not known. Allergies do tend to run in families, and it is very common for people to develop hay fever, childhood eczema and asthma (a combined condition known as atopy). This may be due to an inherited characteristic in the cells which make up the immune system, which is the body’s defence system against disease.
Most allergies are the result of an error in the immune system. The body’s defence forces react to the allergen as if it were a dangerously infected organism. White blood cells called lymphocytes are one of the most important elements of the immune system.
These cells are constantly on the look-out for foreign substances such as bacteria, viruses and proteins which are different from the body’s own proteins and which may present a threat. When these white blood cells come across a potentially dangerous foreign protein they form a substance called an antibody, which combines with the foreign protein and neutralizes it.
By some highly complicated process, which is not yet understood by scientists, the immune system of a normal healthy person knows how to tell the difference between a dangerous foreign protein (like a virus) and a harmless one, such as a food protein.
But in an allergic person, the immune system reacts to a harmless foreign protein as if it were a dangerous one, and starts forming an antibody. This antibody attaches itself to cells called mast cells. Mast cells contain a number of chemicals the most important of which is histamine.
When the body is exposed to the protein again, the antibody attached to the mast cells combines with the foreign proteins and tries to neutralize them. But in so doing, it upsets the structure of the mast cell, which falls apart and releases its load of histamine.
The surge of histamine produces an effect very much like the inflammation which follows a wound; it makes tiny blood vessels dilate, and they dilate their walls become leaky, so that fluid from the blood escapes into the surrounding tissues.
The dilation of the tiny blood vessels causes redness and itching, and the escaping fluid makes the surrounding tissues swell. In hay fever, the mucous glands in the nose and sinuses are also stimulated to produce fluid, which causes stuffiness and a runny nose.
Skin prick test
In this test, a small needle is used to gently prick the skin through a drop of fluid containing a known allergen. It is usually done on the forearm, although with young children it may be done on the back, so they don’t have to see what is happening. The test is not painful and the results are immediately available.
In this test, a sample of your blood is taken and sent to a specialist laboratory for what is known as the RAST test (Radio AllergoSorbent Test) or CAP-RAST. This measures the amount of specific Immunoglobulin E antibodies (IgE) in your blood to various environmental and food allergens. House dust Mite IgE will be raised if you have an allergy to house dust mites and this is then graded 0 to 6 depending on the level of that IgE in the blood.
This test is used to diagnose delayed allergic reactions such as Contact Dermatitis. It involves taping traces of various known contact allergens on the skin underneath special aluminium discs and keeping them there for 48 hours. It can test for allergy to Rubber, Nickel, Lanolin, dyes, cosmetics, solvents, preservatives, and medication. The test patches on the skin are then assessed for allergic eczematous changes by a dermatologist.
A special diet called the elimination diet is sometimes used to identify which foods are the cause of a food allergy. At first, a very plain diet is provided often consisting of little more than water and one vegetable such as potatoes and one meat such as lamb. All possible allergens are excluded.
If you have an acute kind of allergy that makes you sick whenever you eat say, strawberries or shellfish, you hardly need a doctor to diagnose your complaint. The cause and effect are obvious, and the simplest way to deal with the allergy is to avoid the allergen. If your doctor carries out prick tests, he/she will be able to tell you which substance you should avoid. So if, for example, you are allergic to wool, then you should avoid contact with it.
Several kinds of drug are prescribed to deal with the symptoms of allergy
Antihistamines combat the inflammatory effects of histamine when it is released. They come as tablets, liquid medicine, nose drops or eye drops, and there are injectable antihistamines that can be used to deal with serious attacks. Antihistamines are particularly useful for hay fever, urticaria and perennial rhinitis.
Another drug Disodium Cromoglycate (better known as Intal), works by preventing the mast cells from exploding. This drug can be given in the form of an inhalant (for asthma), eye drops (for allergic symptoms in the eyes), tablets (for stomach allergies) or by a nose spray for hay fever or perennial rhinitis.
Corticosteroid drugs such as Cortisone, which are very powerful and anti-inflammatory, are some times prescribed for skin allergies or via an inhaler, to combat asthma.
Food allergies can sometimes be relieved by drugs, but some doctors prefer to recommend diets that ensure that you eliminate all the foods to which you have an allergic reaction. This can be quite difficult in the case of peanut allergy, which can be severe and most usually occurs in children. You should inform your child’s school if your child has an allergy to nuts as peanut oil is a commonly used cooking ingredient in many foodstuffs.
There is quite a lot you can do to help yourself or your child. Obviously, if you suffer from a food or chemical allergy you should make every effort to avoid your allergens. (Reading the labels on food packets to see if the product contains the allergen you are allergic to).
What are head lice?
They’re tiny, wingless, parasitic insects that live on the scalp and suck blood, causing severe itching. The good news is that head lice can not hurt your child they are more of a nuisance.
How can I detect head lice?
Scratching is often the first sign of infestation. If your child is at school you will get a letter informing you if there are head lice at school. If you do get a letter about lice you should act on it immediately by checking your child’s hair. If your child scratches a lot, especially around the back of the head or the ears, check for lice immediately
Lice aren’t easy to see: the bugs take on the colour of the hair they’re hiding in. In fact, you may never see a louse. It’s common to discover an infestation of head lice based on lice eggs (nits) alone. Nits are also tiny – about the size of sesame seeds – and creamy off-white or pearly white.
Head lice do not jump, fly, or swim. They spread by direct contact, “walking” from one hair or head to another. They happen in the best circles and does not mean that you or your child has dirty hair, in fact some people say that head lice prefer clean heads.
How do children get lice?
Most children get lice from classmates or a friend or from shared clothes, such as a hat and sharing the same hairbrush.
How do I get rid of lice?
You can buy over the counter shampoos such as “Derbac, full marks” which only cost a few pounds. To ensure your child remains free of lice and nits, you must remove ALL the nits with a nit comb and follow up with a second shampoo treatment seven to ten days after the first.
Because lice travel easily from one head to another, getting rid of lice and nits right away prevents them from spreading to other family members, allows your child to go back to school quickly, and put your family routine back on track. If your child does have lice you should not send him/her to school until they are fully cleared of them.
How do I apply a lice shampoo?
Shampoo your child’s hair rinse and apply conditioner. Let hair dry, then apply the lice shampoo. The instructions on the label will tell you how long to leave it in. It is best to shampoo your child’s hair before going to bed and leaving it on all night. Rinse out the lice shampoo and towel-dry hair.
Don’t forget the nits
You have to get rid of the nits, too. Each remaining nit will hatch a new round of lice, making it crucial to breaking that maddening cycle.
After applying the lice shampoo wash with normal shampoo then rinse. Apply conditioner and leave in the hair, this will help the nits slide off the hair. Use a normal comb to get any tats, knots out of your child’s hair. Then use a steel tooth comb (nit comb) And comb the child’s hair until all the nits are out. Continue to check your child’s hair daily and reapply the shampoo 7-10 days later. This is important even if your child has no nits.
What is hay fever?
Hay fever (medically known as ‘seasonal allergic rhinitis), is a very common condition. Although it is not life-threatening, allergic rhinitis is one of the most prevalent health problems in the country, and if not treated effectively, can significantly affect your lifestyle and a general feeling of well-being. This condition results from an allergy to inhaled dust.
Hay fever causes
While the most common cause is an allergy to grass or tree pollens, identical symptoms may result from inhaling other dust such as fungal spores, animal hair and scurf, and faeces of house dust mites. Allergic rhinitis occurs when people breathe in an allergen that contacts the lining of the nose, triggering an allergic event.
Hay fever symptoms
The blood vessels dilate and the mucous cells in both the nose and the sinuses begin to generate more mucus. As a result the eyes itch and stream, the nose and sinuses become blocked and cause feelings of stuffiness and heaviness in the head. The throat becomes sore and the sufferer will generally feel unwell. Sneezing is common first thing in the morning and the sufferer may sneeze repeatedly between rising and eating breakfast.
Hay fever treatment
The best treatment is to avoid the cause of the allergy. If the cause is a family pet or your friend’s love of freshly cut flowers you should do your best to stay clear. However, there is no way of avoiding exposure to dust like tree and grass pollens.
Medicines are placed in the nose by means of a spray or puffer, or the eyes by means of drops. A solution of sodium cromoglycate is made up to treat both the eyes and the nose. This prevents the release of histamine.
Antihistamines may be of some help in hay fever, but many cause sleepiness which some people find intolerable.
Hay fever preventative measures
Do not have furry animals around, particularly in the house.
Minimize the number of fluffy toys around the house.
Choose bare floorboards rather than carpet.
Airy, dry, sunny rooms are best.
Pay special attention to your child’s bedding.
Don’t use woollen under-lays because they encourage dust mites.
What is scabies?
Scabies is a contagious skin disease caused by a mite (Scopes scabies) which is becoming increasingly common for reasons which are unknown. Scabies spreads from person to person usually by close skin to skin contact or shared clothing or bed linen, but it is now accepted that mites can pass by just standing close to the infected person. Mites are 0.1 mm in diameter. The mite is disk-shaped, and pearly-white with brown legs.
Scabies is transferred when fertilized female mites gnaw their way through the skin and create little passageways in the process. In these passageways, they lay their eggs and die. Approximately three weeks later the eggs hatch and a new generation of itch mites are ready to reproduce.
It will also take about three weeks from the time of infection before the itch starts. It will make the victim scratch the skin day and night and can cause bleeding. Scabies is highly contagious – if you have close contact with a person infected with the scabies mite, your chances of catching it are fairly high.
Crowded living conditions, close body contact – for instance, sleeping in the same bed – even holding hands for a while, can easily allow the mite to spread from one person to another.
The mite burrows into the skin, especially around the hands, feet, male genitalia, women’s nipples and armpits. It does not usually affect the neck and head, although it may in infants.
The itching is due to an allergic reaction to the tiny mites, and is associated with a rash of red, raised spots. The itch is worse at night, and may often affect more than one family member.
If only one member of the family has a rash a diagnosis can often be missed as the scabies rash can look like other itchy conditions e.g. eczema. Diagnosis is often made clearer if more than one family member has an itchy rash. Sometimes burrows can be seen, especially near to the wrists.
The treatment for scabies is simple and efficient. The medication can be bought without a prescription.
Permethrin. It is one of the best treatments to use in view of its relative safety, ease of application, and as it tends not to irritate the skin. A one-time application of permethrin (Nix®) cream or lotion to the skin cures scabies over 90% of the time. Sometimes a second application will be needed after a week.
The whole body has to be cleaned (with warm water, not hot) and covered with cream. Clean clothes should be put on during treatment – 12 to 14 hours – and then again after the cream has been washed off. Benzyl benzoate emulsion.
This is washed off after twenty-four hours and repeated two or three times. In infants or young children, it is wise to dilute in two or three times as much water, as this helps reduce skin irritation.
Durban- This is washed off after twenty-four hours and should be repeated 7-10 days later.
When treating the problem the whole household and people that come in contact with the infected person should be treated at the same time and all bedding, towels and clothing that has been worn should be washed immediately.
If your child gets infected with scabies there is no reason why you should keep him/her off school once you have treated the problem. The mites die as soon as treated and can not be passed on. But you should let the school know that your child has scabies as soon as the diagnosis has been made.
Get special instructions from your doctor or pharmacist about how many cream infants or young children need. A small amount of permethrin can be absorbed through the skin and might come out in breast milk. If you’re pregnant or nursing, talk to your doctor about an alternative treatment.
What is eczema?
Eczema is a chronic skin condition, which affects about 1 person in 1
Dermatitis is a term that is sometimes connected, in people’s minds, with exposure to chemicals. It really only means inflammation of the skin, and could be used interchangeably with eczema, as it often is by doctors.
Eczema can be caused by a number of different factors, and may result in just a small patch of skin being affected, but can affect skin anywhere on the body.
The causes of eczema often have a strong genetic component, and there is often a family history of atopy. The condition may also be aggravated by house dust mite, cat and dog dander, or grass pollen, and other closely associated familial, allergic conditions such as asthma or haye fever. In adults, it is also thought to have an emotional component as it often appears in times of stress. Thyroid function tests should be checked in chronic cases as this is one of its causes. It can also be aggravated by anxiety and chemicals.
The other possible causes include:
Infantile eczema often affects young babies. This may lead to a patch below their chins, which gets wettest from dribbling, and may be associated with cradle cap.
Contact with substances that irritate the skin chemically. This is caused by direct contact between the skin and the substance, which might be such things as detergents, soaps, diesel or engine oils, strong chemicals, cleaners etc.
Contact with substances that the body has become allergic to. Commonly this involves nickel, rubbers etc. If a woman was sensitive to nickel in the past it would cause a reaction where the bra hooks and suspenders came near her skin, as these typically contained nickel. Plastics have helped to overcome this risk, but jewellery and watches are still a common cause. Suddenly people need to spend a bit more on their presents to you!
The typical eczema rash usually starts as a raised and reddened scaly patch, quickly developing into weeping, pus-filled sores which may then crust over. If left untreated, the skin often becomes dry, cracked and itchy, and thicker due to the reaction to persistent scratching.
In children between the ages of two and ten, the rash appears mainly in the folds and creases of skin including the backs of knees and behind the ears. In infants under two years old, the rash is most likely to appear on the face, elbows or knees.
The itch is intense and makes you want to scratch. You should avoid this if you possibly can, as scratching only makes the symptoms worse. People say that if you have to do anything, gentle rubbing, with the flat of your hands is better than scratching.
The doctor will usually come to the diagnosis from examining your child. If in doubt, or if he or she feels that you need further tests, then you may be referred to a skin specialist (dermatologist).
Further tests may include blood tests, patch tests (where little patches of different substances are stuck to your skin for a few days, to see if you react to any of them) and other allergy tests.
There is essentially no cure for eczema. It involves a sensitivity of the skin that you are likely to have to some degree from now on. There are, however, a number of approaches that help to minimize your symptoms. The treatment for chronic eczema usually involves the use of corticosteroid creams, moisturizers and oils.
The strength of the steroid creams will vary depending upon the severity of the condition. Long-term use of steroid creams is to be avoided as much as possible as it can result in thinning of the skin.
Avoidance of irritants or anything which aggravates the skin should be observed. With age, eczema often improves and can even disappear altogether. Some moisturizers contain antiseptics which are good for controlling the bacteria in the skin which affects eczema:
Avoid spraying strong irritants like perfumes on the skin.
Avoid balm creams containing lanolin as some can cause an allergy.
Don’t use chemicals like detergents and sudden changes in the temperature of tap water.
Look for trigger factors, particularly allergens from animal furs, soaps, deodorants etc.
What are verrucas?
A verruca is simply a wart on the sole of the foot. Verrucas are more common in children, teenagers and young adults. They are contagious and spread most easily among people sharing wet facilities such as swimming pools and shower areas.
Warts appear anywhere on the body, but verrucas develop only on the soles of the feet, usually as an area of thick, tough skin similar to a callus. Their dark appearance is due to the clotting of blood at the tips of tiny blood vessels called capillaries that grow into the verruca.
Signs of verrucas may include pain as if treading on a pebble, when walking or standing, a callused area on the sole of the foot, and one or more tiny dark dots, known as seeds, which sometimes become visible after paring or trimming the callused skin.
A verruca is a form of wart, a non-cancerous skin growth caused by the human papillomavirus that invades the outermost layer of the skin causing its cells to reproduce faster than normal. Their size can range from a pinhead to several centimetres across, and they can develop on any part of the foot as one or as part of a cluster.
They are most uncomfortable when they develop on pressure points such as the heel. Pressure from walking and standing often pushes a verruca beneath the skin’s surface, flattening the softcore that lies beneath the toughened superficial wart.
In many cases, home treatment can be effective in dealing with verrucas. This often involves the repeated application of a non-prescription salicylic acid preparation to soften the tissue so that it can be rubbed off easily – a process that may take several months to be effective.
Sufferers should wear comfortable shoes and socks and avoid high heels and other shoes that might increase pressure on the foot. Skin patches can be bought from a pharmacy to help relieve pressure on the verruca, along with pads or cushions to wear inside shoes to make walking more comfortable.
Non-prescription drugs such as Aspirin or Ibuprofen may help relieve pain, but aspirin should not be given to anyone younger than 12. To prevent verrucas from spreading, keep them covered with a bandage or athletic tape. Shoes, socks, towels and bath mats should never be shared.
What is conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, which is the white membrane covering the eyeball and inner lining of the eyelids. The infection may affect one or both eyes but is not usually painful. This comes on relatively quickly and lasts for a fairly short time. Acute conjunctivitis may clear on its own but often needs treatment from your doctor.
Mostly both eyes are affected, but often one starts before the other. The eye is sticky, with a discharge, which is worse when you wake up. The eye is red, with the blood vessels over the white of the eye more visible and swollen. The lining of the eyelids also looks redder or pinker than usual. The eye is itchy or painful.
The cause is mostly bacterial or viral in origin but can be caused by contact lenses, allergy to drugs, pollen, or foreign bodies.
Treatment depends upon the cause and is often self-limiting, but eye drops are available to help reduce the inflammation, while antibiotics may be prescribed for a bacterial infection.
You could try bathing the eyes with water or water with a pinch of salt in it.
As the condition is often highly contagious, children suffering from conjunctivitis should use separate facecloths and towels to prevent it from spreading to others. If applying ointment or bathing your child’s eyes you should wash your hands immediately. Advise your child on touching his/her eyes, or she could spread the infection.
What is chickenpox?
Chickenpox is a disease marked by an itchy rash that starts out as multiple small, red bumps that quickly change into thin-walled water blisters. These blisters develop into cloudy sores, which finally become dry, brown crusts. New waves of rashes often spring up over the next two to four days. The disease typically leaves children tired and slightly feverish
A germ called the varicella-zoster virus, which passes from person to person with remarkable ease. People with the illness carry the virus on their hands and release it into the air whenever they sneeze, cough, or even breathe.
The first symptoms include a mild fever, headache, loss of appetite and general malaise. During this time, the rash of spots may appear anywhere on the body, starting as red blister-like spots which scab within 24 hours. The infection is at its most contagious during the period immediately before the rash starts, and infectivity lasts until the vesicles have formed crusts.
Once the rash appears, any fever and malaise generally diminish, and the spots continue to appear over the next few days. The itchiness of the spots is most uncomfortable, and children should be cautioned not to scratch them as it could lead to scarring.
In normal circumstances, chickenpox will run its course, and the only treatment is to help relieve itching, reduce fever and prevent any bacterial infections or other complications. Drinking plenty of fluids and applying calamine lotion to the spots, is often the best form of management.
A doctor should be contacted immediately if the child suffers a temperature rise, becomes confused, drowsy or complains of severe headache, neck stiffness or has any difficulty breathing.