Conditions + Treatments

Treatments for Allergies in Children

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The Division of Immunology at Boston Children's Hospital diagnoses and treats children, adolescents and adults with allergic disorders and immunodeficiencies. This can include common allergy-related problems, such as food- and pet-allergies, eczema and asthma, as well as more complex and rare immunodeficiencies, such as X-linked agammaglobulinemia, in which the immune system fails to produce antibodies.

It may be helpful to know all the treatment and prevention options to determine the best plan for your child.

Limiting exposure to allergens

  • Remain indoors when the pollen count is high and on windy days. Pollen is especially high from 5 to 10 a.m.
  • Dust-proof your home, particularly your child's bedroom.
  • Reduce wall-to-wall carpet, Venetian blinds and down-filled blankets or pillows.
  • Wash bedding, curtains and clothing often in hot water to eliminate dust mites.
  • Keep bedding in allergen proof mattress and pillow encasings.
  • Use air conditioning instead of opening the windows.
  • Use a dehumidifier in damp areas of the home and remember to clean it often.
  • Don't leave wet clothes in the washer. Damp clothes can be a safe haven for mold.
  • Avoid secondhand cigarette smoke
  • Talk with your child's school to determine high risk areas and activities.
  • If your child plays sports, inform the coaches about your child's allergies.

Immunotherapy (allergy shots):

  • Used for children with hay fever and/or asthma.
  • Also called desensitization, hyposensitization and allergy shots.
  • The shots are a mixture of the various pollens, molds, animal dander and dust mites to which your child is allergic. They contain no medication such as antihistamines or corticosteroids.
  • Injected into the fatty tissue in the back of the arm. It isn't painful like an injection into the muscle, such as a penicillin shot.
  • Given weekly or twice a week until a maximum dose is tolerated. This is called the maintenance dose. It may take about one year to reach the maintenance dose. At this point, the frequency of injections may be decreased to every other week and finally to once a month.
  • About 80 to 90 percent of children improve with immunotherapy. It usually takes 12 to 18 months before definite reduction in allergy symptoms is noticed, but can take as few as six months. It's important to continue allergy medications and avoidance in the meantime.

Are there side-effects to immunotherapy?

  • Local: redness and swelling at the injection site. If this happens, your doctor will change the extract strength or schedule.
  • Systemic: involves a site other than the injection site. Symptoms may include nasal congestion, sneezing, hives, swelling, wheezing and low blood pressure. Such reactions can be serious and life threatening (deaths related to immunotherapy are rare). If a serious reaction occurs, your doctor will lower the dosage.

Medication: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against some over-the-counter medicines for infants and young children. Always consult your child's physician before giving your child any over-the-counter medications.

Antihistamines:

  • Used to relieve or prevent the symptoms of allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and other allergies.
  • Prevent the effects of histamine, a substance produced by the body during an allergic reaction.
  • Come in tablet, capsule, liquid or injection form and are available both over-the-counter and by prescription.

Decongestants

  • Cause the blood vessels to narrow, leading to the clearing of nasal congestion.
  • Come in tablet, liquid and nose spray or drops, and are available both over the counter and by prescription.
  • The American Academy of Family Physicians does not recommend decongestants for children ages 4 and younger.
    100 Years of allergen immunotherapy:  From pollen to milk

     “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulder of giants”

    - Sir Isaac Newton, English  physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist, and theologian (1642-1727)

    Over three centuries ago, Newton recognized that scientific discoveries are a continuation of previous accomplishments. This pattern of success is also illustrated in biomedical research and carried on by Boston Children's research. In 1911, Leonard Noon used pollen injections to help people build immunity against hay fever, much like how Dr. Jenner created the smallpox vaccine in 1796. Building on Noon's work, Dale Umetsu, MD, PhD, and Lynda Schneider, MD, director of the Allergy Program, have successfully cured a child's milk allergy. Learn more, and join the conversation on Boston Children's Thriving blog.

 

Coping & support

Having an allergy is a difficult condition for children and their families to manage, requiring a vigilant awareness and planning to avoid allergens. This constant heightened state of awareness can be mentally and emotionally draining for children and parents.

To help educate children and their families to manage the psychological effects of managing allergies, Lynda Schneider, MD, director of Allergy Program, and her colleagues have created a workshop for children to learn how to express their feelings about allergies, and for parents to learn how to handle the stress, support their children emotionally and teach allergy management skills to their child. Read more about this allergy workshop.

There's a lot of support available here at Children's for you and your family, and here are some of the ways we can help:

Patient education: From the office visit to pre-op to the recovery room, our nurses will be on hand to walk you through your child's treatment and help answer any questions you may have.   They will also reach out to you by phone, continuing the care and support you received while at Children's.

Parent to parent: Want to talk with someone whose child has been treated for allergies? We can often put you in touch with other families who have been through similar experiences and can share with you their experience at Children's.

Faith-based support: If you are in need of spiritual support, we will help connect you with the Children's chaplaincy. Our program includes nearly a dozen clergy representing Episcopal, Jewish, Lutheran, Muslim, Roman Catholic, Unitarian and United Church of Christ traditions who will listen to you, pray with you and help you observe your own faith practices during your hospital experience.

Social work: Our clinical social workers have helped many other families in your situation. Your social worker can offer counseling and assistance with issues such as coping with your child's diagnosis, stresses relating to coping with illness and dealing with financial difficulties. 

Visit our For Patients and Families page for all you need to know about:

  • getting to Boston Children's
  • accommodations
  • navigating the hospital experience
  • resources that are available for your family
    “Helping Your Child with Medical Experiences: A Practical Parent Guide”
    Download a free booklet, “Helping Your Child with Medical Experiences: A Practical Parent Guide”(.pdf) and read about topics including:
    • talking to your child about his condition
    • supporting siblings
    • taking care of yourself during your child's illness
    • adjusting to life after treatment
    • adjusting to life after treatment
We are grateful to have been ranked #1 on U.S. News & World Report's list of the best children's hospitals in the nation for the third year in a row, an honor we could not have achieved without the patients and families who inspire us to do our very best for them. Thanks to you, Boston Children's is a place where we can write the greatest children's stories ever told.”
- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO

Boston Children's Hospital 300 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115 617-355-6000 | 800-355-7944

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