Childhood allergies and asthma can be frustrating and scary for parents. When my son was a baby, it took several weeks to determine he had a milk allergy, which didn't show up until I had stopped breastfeeding him. Eczema covered his body and he wheezed with every breath. Once we finally figured out the allergen, we were able to clear up both his skin and breathing within a few days.

Childhood allergies and asthma can be frustrating and scary for parents. When my son was a baby, it took several weeks to determine he had a milk allergy, which didn't show up until I had stopped breastfeeding him. Eczema covered his body and he wheezed with every breath. Once we finally figured out the allergen, we were able to clear up both his skin and breathing within a few days.

When my daughter was a toddler, we discovered she had a reaction to red dye, which is found in numerous foods, beverages and
children's medicines.

Again, it took time to figure out that she turned from a sweet little girl into an absolute monster whenever she consumed anything red. A book that I found very helpful was Is This Your Child? by Doris Rapp, which explained how allergies can affect children behaviorally as well as physically.

These are just a couple examples of common allergies that can cause discomfort and distress for parents and children. I
had both of my kids tested for allergies when they were young. My son had developed seasonal allergies and he took allergy shots
for several years, which helped him a great deal.

But how can parents know when and if to seek allergy tests? How do you know if your child has allergies or just a cold?


Allergy vs. cold
Dr. Jennifer Z. Bullock with Midwest Allergy and Immunology Associates said that many children, especially those in daycare or school, will contract four to six upper respiratory infections, or 'colds,' per year. "Some children therefore seem like they are 'sick all of the time,' so it can be difficult to distinguish allergy nasal symptoms from a cold," she said. "Colds usually occur from fall through winter, whereas allergies are more likely [to occur] year-round, or may worsen in the spring and fall.

Colds usually begin with mild symptoms of runny nose and nasal congestion, symptoms peak then improve, and last for 10-14 days. Children with colds will often have fever, muscle aches and malaise. Allergy symptoms will often be more chronic."


Testing and shots
Allergy testing can help parents know which measures to take for their child's symptoms, especially the avoidance of allergens such as animal or food allergens. It also can help parents know what time of year the child may need medication for seasonal allergies, or
if allergy shots may be a suitable option. "Allergy shots immunize a patient against the allergens so that over time the body learns
to ignore allergens and symptoms resolve," Bullock said. "Some children cannot tolerate allergy medications due to various side effects, so they may be good candidates for taking allergy shots."

Bullock said allergy shots contain purified, sterile allergens diluted with saline solution, given with a small, thin, short needle into the fatty tissue on the back of the arm, and are usually well-tolerated by children.


The allergy-asthma connection
Allergies can cause complications such as asthma, chronic cough, ear infections, sinus infections,
snoring, sleep apnea or poor sleep. Bullock said that a staggering 80 percent of children with asthma have allergies. "Some asthmatic children with allergies actually do not suffer from nasal or eye allergy symptoms - their allergy is expressed only in the lungs," she explained. "Actually, most children with asthma have chronic allergic inflammation in their lungs from inhaling allergens on a daily basis."

Daily therapy may be required to prevent asthma attacks and lung impairment. Bullock said that if an asthma attack does occur, early recognition and treatment of the problem with rescue inhalers (albuterol), and sometimes steroids, are very important.


Complementary and alternative options
When Chris Aul, L. Ac. of Columbus Acupuncture and Wellness Center works with a child with asthma and allergies, he looks beyond the symptoms to determine why the body is sick. "We look deeper to see what is going on in the body and what we can do to correct that," he said. "We try to determine why the body is weak and how we can build it back up using traditional Chinese medicines."

Aul said he and registered dietitian Catherine Rutter work to strengthen the patient's body from the inside out and from the
outside in. He also utilizes Chinese medical massage. "We educate the parents and show them how to use the massage so they can practice this on their child daily for optimum results," he said. "We can work with any age child and parents must be willing to participate in their child's healthcare, be involved, and practice the modalities we show them. We often see those patients who haven't been able to find relief anywhere else."

Aul explained that for allergy or asthma symptoms, Chinese medicine modalities can be used in a complementary fashion to help the traditional medication be more effective. "We have seen success with many asthma patients," he said. "Some can improve enough to reduce their inhaler medication use or may no longer need it. We also deal with various allergies including skin allergies, food and seasonal allergies. The acupressure helps patients become less sensitive to their allergy triggers."

For a child's asthma attack, Aul said he thinks the child needs to have his or her inhaler as a back-up in a crisis situation, but there are acupuncture ear points that relate to asthma and patients can rub those points if they feel an attack coming. "We train the parents and the child how to administer the massage at these points," he said. "We give the parents plenty of information so they are well educated in how to help their child. There really is no limit to this type of treatment. It comes down to allowing the body to function naturally."

For childhood allergies and asthma, many options are available. Talk with your healthcare professional to determine the best treatment for your child.


Jan Myers is a freelance writer in Coshocton with a son, Maxx (15) and a daughter, Maggie (10). She writes about families, travel, health and spirituality at www.mylifetransformations.com.