Could Your Child’s Immune System be compromised?

words by Cassi Cowlam

In the last 50 years, the prevalence of immune disorders such as allergic asthma, hayfever, sinusitis, bronchitis and atopic dermatitis and eczema has significantly increased in the developed world. Allergic diseases are ranked FIRST among the cause of chronic disease in children in Westernised societies.

Many things in our environment can cause an allergic reaction, such as dust mites, pollen and grasses. As a practitioner of natural medicine, in today’s society I am seeing more and more that a common culprit is diet-related, and can really be affecting your child’s short-term and long-term health. This is not always due to an actual allergy, but possibly an intolerance.

Because babies and young children’s immune systems are underdeveloped, they can be prone to allergies, and children can be more vulnerable to intolerances due to having a higher dose of food stuffs/chemicals than they can cope with for their weight.

When assessing a child’s immune system, it is essential to take into account their gut function, as this is their “first line of defense” against the world. It has been reported that allergic infants have less beneficial bacteria in their gut, which reduces their ability to ward off such nasties as staphylococcus aureus and clostridia. Also, if there is a family history of being “allergic” this needs to be considered, especially mum as allergens can also pass from the mother into the amniotic fluid during gestation, making the baby more prone to allergies.

When it comes to food, what is the difference between an allergy and an intolerance?

A food allergy is an “immunological” reaction to a food … a disease that follows an immune system response to what should be a harmless antigen. Reactions include asthma, eczema or hayfever. Reactions are quick, usually within 30 minutes. Only the tiniest amount needs to be eaten.

A food intolerance is a “pharmacological” reaction to a chemical in the food (similar to a side effect of a drug). Reactions include migraines, behavioural problems, irritable bowel symptoms. Reactions are slower, up to 48 hours after eating the food, and are dose-related, so you can eat a little bit and be symptom free, but eat too much and “wham” … signs and symptoms arise.

What are some symptoms my child may have?

Look out for things like itchy eyes, itchy ears, dark circles under the eyes, constant runny nose or chest infections, always rubbing at their nose, failure to grow, restless legs, mood swings, fatigue, hyperactivity, unusual amount of temper tantrums or gut dysfunction such as bloating, excess wind, constipation or diarrhoea.  A simple list of questions may help identify if there could be a problem, and can be very useful in infants and toddlers, who cannot fully verbalise how they are feeling.  These are detailed below, or click on: COULD YOUR CHILD HAVE ALLERGIES

What are some ways of checking if my child has intolerances / allergies?

When conducting a natural health check, besides looking at signs and symptoms and checking diet and lifestyle, it is imperative to ascertain the health of the gut.  Blood tests can be performed – some are where blood can be checked against all the different allergens to see if antigens are formed. An elimination diet is also an effective (and cheaper) way of checking, but it does involve determination and commitment.

Common Signs / Symptoms

If you can answer yes to many of these questions, then your child may have an allergy or intolerance problem. Of course, all children are different – some are better sleepers, some are better eaters, some are happier than others … they are all little individuals that are beautiful and unique. However, checking to see if an allergy is an underlying problem can help make them happier and healthier, setting them up for a much better health future as they grow.

If you suspect your child may have intolerances or allergies, further testing can be arranged, or seek advice for diet and lifestyle changes that can make a huge difference.

Does your child:    
–          Get a lot of blocked or runny noses    
–          Get a lot of tummy trouble – wind, constipation, diarrhoea, itching bottom    
–          Get frequently sick – lots of infections, eg ear, nose, throat, chest    
–          Get frequent attacks of screaming or aggressive behaviour    
–          Pick their nose frequently    
–          Sniff a lot, or wipe their nose a lot, is a “mouth” breather    
–          Have a dry cough    
–          Always want to sleep or tires easily    
–          Tug their ears often    
–          Tongue (“click”) the roof of their mouth a lot (sucking noise)    
–          Bed wet more than normal    
–          Restless legs at night whilst sleeping    
–          Have eczema or other dry skin patches, or welts and hives    
–          Have sticky eyes    
–          Has itchy skin or scalp or eyes    
–          Gets wheezy frequently    
–          Get “rosy” cheeks frequently    
–          Appear more “clingy” than usual    
–          Gets anxious easily    
–          Have a poor appetite    
–          Seem to be very demanding    
–          Seem very destructive    
–          Seem disinterested in their toys or play for more than a few minutes    
–          Seem to be very active, needing little sleep    
–          Seem to hurt themselves often    
–          Seem to be always covered in bruises    
–          Have very little patience    
–          Have a poor learning ability    
–          Get confused easily    
–          Reach milestones later than usual, eg learning to sit, stand or walk    
–          Seem to stagger    
–          Appear behind in their speech    
–          Always wanting to drink, especially milk or juice    
–          Want biscuits, sweets, chocolate or bread – basically sugar    
–          Refuse normal foods, preferring junk such as chips    
–          Appear over or under weight    
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