We are constantly exposed to foreign bodies from the environment, with the respiratory system, digestive system and skin all providing a barrier to protect us from the outside world. Ordinarily, the immune system does an amazing job detecting these foreign bodies and neutralising them so that they do not cause harm to our body.
However, for some kids, their immune system has an abnormal response that causes unwanted symptoms. When this happens we refer to these substances as ‘allergens’. Fortunately, with targeted treatment, the allergic process can be modified, helping your child to become less reactive to substances they have always found problematic. Allergies are considered one of the fastest growing chronic diseases in Australia.
WHAT ARE ALLERGIES AND WHAT IS REACTIVITY?
An allergy or reactivity is an inappropriate immune response to what should be a harmless substance in the environment. This could be pollen, a food item and/or a natural or synthetic chemical or product. Allergy and reactivity symptom severity varies significantly from child to child, ranging from serious anaphylaxis (e.g. an allergic response requiring EpiPen® use) to milder symptoms such as ongoing headaches.
Allergies and reactivity can affect more than one bodily system and often run in families, and usually affect the same system across generations. Not every child with an allergy has an anaphylactic response, but may instead experience other allergic conditions such as hay fever, allergic asthma, atopic dermatitis (skin rashes) or food allergies (e.g. coeliac disease).
Allergies often involve the release of histamine, a chemical signal secreted by specific cells when you r child is exposed to an allergen. It is a combination of an abnormal immune response, and the subsequent release of histamine, that results in a diverse range of physical reactions that may include the following:
✅ Respiratory symptoms (e.g. sneezing, sinus pain, red itchy nose)
✅ Gut symptoms (e.g. bloating, flatulence, cramping)
✅ Skin symptoms (e.g. red itchy rash, hives), amongst others.
Importantly, reactivity is not the same as allergy. Reactivity is also sometimes referred to as an intolerance or hypersensitivity.
Food intolerances can be the result of an absence of a specific ‘enzyme’ or chemical needed to digest a food substance (e.g. kids who are lactose intolerant do not have enough of the enzyme ‘lactase’ to digest the lactose properly).
Reactivity may also occur in response to natural chemicals in foods such as naturally occurring histamine, or due to added chemicals (e.g. food additives found in processed and packaged foods).
Intolerances tend to be more chronic and have less obvious systemic symptoms, making it harder to directly associate what your child has eaten as a cause of the symptoms. For example, chronic headaches, sinus congestion, variable bowel motions, skin rashes, poor concentration, mood changes and energy slumps may all be due to reacting to something in the environment.
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