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Does Your Child Have Allergies or Asthma?

Answers to the Most Common Questions Parents Ask

Allergy and Asthma image

Paul Ehrlich, MD, and Larry Chiaramonte, MD, are the authors of Asthma, Allergies, Children: A Parent’s Guide. Here are their answers to some of the most common questions they hear from parents asking about the problems that plague their children:

Q: My child has “hay fever” in the spring when there is no hay but not in the fall when there is. Why is that?
A: Hay fever is a term that describes symptoms, not specific causes, and so is misunderstood. There is a well-defined seasonal pollen cycle. In the Northern U.S., tree pollen appears early in the spring, before the leaves unfold. Grass pollen appears later in the spring and early summer. Finally, there is a late summer peak of weeds and ragweed. Hay fever is named for the period when grasses mature and are mown for hay, although the pollens may have nothing to do with agriculture. In warmer areas of the U.S., the grass season may last six months or more.

Q: Children sneeze a lot at night. What can a parent do about it?
A: Keep your house as free as possible from any dust. This is the single most important step in the treatment of allergies & asthma. Remove any furry or feathered animals from the bedroom, permanently. Discard any feather pillows or quilts. Use hypoallergenic pillows and washable blankets. Use plastic covers that completely encase any pillows, the mattress, and box spring, even if the mattress and pillows are new. Remove rugs and carpets, except for washable throw rugs. If it is impossible to remove carpeting, vigorous vacuuming must be performed daily.

Q: What can I do to relieve my child’s painful eczema so he (we!) can (both) get a good night’s sleep?
A: The itching of eczema is partly a function of severe dehydration of the skin as the immune system works overtime to combat allergy and infection. The fluids in the skin stop doing their normal work of keeping the tissue moist. The object is to get the skin rehydrated long enough to stop the itching and provide relief.

Start with a warm bath to hydrate the skin. Then coat the afflicted areas with a layer of Vaseline to trap the moisture already in the skin. Wrap the area with cotton gauze. Now, wet a pair of cotton PJs, wring them out with your hands – you want them wet enough to compensate for the dehydrating effects of any perspiration overnight but not so wet as to be uncomfortable or chilling – and dress the child in them. Finally, put on another pair of dry cotton PJs.

Q: How can I tell if my child has a food allergy?
A: No area of allergy science is more misunderstood than food allergies. People attribute all kinds of symptoms to food allergies – headaches, bad moods, depression, and many others. True food allergy involves a very limited number of symptoms. Mild symptoms include itchy mouth, a few hives around the mouth or face, mild itch, or mild nausea or discomfort.

Severe food allergy symptoms include shortness of breath, wheeze, repetitive cough, pale or bluish skin, fainting, weak pulse, dizziness or confusion, tight throat, hoarseness, trouble breathing or swallowing, obstructive swelling of the tongue or lips, hives over much of the body, vomiting and abdominal cramps, rashes, and swelling.

Q: Will asthma keep my child from playing sports?
A: First of all, a very high percentage of elite athletes also have asthma. Asthmatics play all kinds of sports. But it is very important that you work to keep your child’s asthma under control using medications as prescribed by a qualified specialist and taking precautions in warming up.

Q: How do I know if my child’s asthma is under control?
A: Many asthmatics think that if they are not currently wheezing or coughing, their asthma is under control. They are wrong. They can still have underlying inflammation that can be triggered by any number of things, including polluted air, pollen, and cold air. If they have to rely on a relief inhaler, their asthma is not controlled.


Dr. Paul Ehrlich and Dr. Larry Chiaramonte are also co-creators of a special educational website,, which is devoted to sharing information that is within the guidelines set by accredited medical authorities for treatment of asthma and allergies. The site contains contributions from a team of professionally certified allergy specialists and physicians.

This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, March/April 2011.