If asthma or
allergies run in your family, you probably already know that your child is
at risk for developing allergic disease, too. Like many parents, you may
find yourself digging into the mountain of research on predicting and
preventing allergies and asthma. It doesn't take long to find conflicting
opinions. Sometimes just understanding what is being studied (and why) is
baffling. All of this can be frustrating for parents who only want to
protect their child.
understanding of how allergic disease develops may help you grasp the
medical research on predicting and preventing allergies and asthma. Keep
in mind that the medical community's perception of allergic disease
changes as new research is published. That's one reason for differing
opinions, even among medical doctors.
history of allergic disease was documented by a long-term study published
in 1995. The study was conducted jointly by the Kaiser Permanente Medical
Center Department of Allergy and the University of California Department
of Pediatrics, both in San Diego, CA. High risk infants (those with a
family history of allergic disease) were followed from birth to age seven.
They were tested for atopy (allergic disease) at age 2, age 4, and age 7.
The Kaiser study
identified the path of pediatric asthma development in high risk children.
It looks like this:
Skin allergy symptoms (eczema -- patches of dry, red,
flaky skin) appeared first, often in infancy.
In early infancy, the children who later developed
allergic disease were already sensitized to egg, cow's milk, and
peanuts. Food sensitivity was detected by evidence of immune system
activity in blood tests.
Children who showed true food allergy by age 4 had a
higher incidence of allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and asthma at age 7.
symptoms: Most of the children who developed respiratory
symptoms by age 7 had already displayed the symptoms of eczema
(first), food sensitization (second), and food allergy (third).
Some of the
children in the study dropped off the asthma development path at every
stage. That is, not all the infants who first had eczema developed food
sensitivity later, and so on. That tells researchers (and parents) that
something else is contributing to the development of allergic disease. All
of the children in the study were genetically pre-disposed to allergic
disease. Why did some children develop each of the predictors and finally
respiratory symptoms, while some did not?
allergens leads to allergies
The 1995 Kaiser
study suggested that environmental factors may have tipped the scales.
This led to more research. Study after study validated the relationship
between sensitization (prolonged exposure to allergens) and the
development of asthma. Today, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma
& Immunology (AAAAI is the most respected asthma authority in the
U.S.) confirms that early and prolonged exposure to allergens contributes
to the later development of asthma and allergies.
That means it may
be possible to prevent allergic disease by avoiding early exposure to
allergens and irritants, particularly viruses, dust mites, animal dander,
cockroaches, mold and mildew, and smoke. Avoiding exposure to these
allergic triggers early in childhood usually means scrupulous
techniques might include keeping infants and toddlers away from tobacco
smoke and people who have viral infections and removing pets from the
home. Clinical trials demonstrate that encasing bedding in dust mite-proof
covers and aggressive household cleaning are two of the most effective
ways to avoid sensitization and slow down the development of allergic
The more you
learn about avoiding asthma triggers now -- even before allergic symptoms
appear -- the better your chance of protecting your child from allergies
and asthma later.
Parent's Resource Center
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November 14, 2006