NAIROBI, Kenya, May 27 – Allergies are the most common chronic diseases greatly affecting the quality of life and a child’s learning potential.
In an interview with Capital Health, Pediatrician and Allergy Specialist Dr. Evelyn Ng’ang’a notes that allergies could also be fatal, as in the case of anaphylaxis.
Speaking during the unveiling of the Pediatric Allergy Clinic at the facility, Dr. Ng’ang’a stated that the service is mainly focused on children, covering a broad range of conditions that present themselves with an overreaction by the body’s immune system, manifesting to an allergy.
“We are looking to provide for the patients suffering from the various categories of allergies as well as get them a better quality of life,” she said, “covering a wide spectrum of allergic diseases.”
-Allergies commonly found in Children-
Atopic eczema: A chronic, inflammatory condition of the skin that is very itchy. It most often begins in infancy and can persist into adulthood. It presents as skin dryness, redness, oozing and crusting and lichenification (dark, thickened, skin).
Treatment is usually aimed at reducing itching and inflammation, prevent flare up and minimize therapeutic risks. Standard treatment modalities include avoiding trigger overheating, soaps and detergents, woolen clothes etc) anti-inflammatory creams and skin moisturization.
Allergic Rhinitis/ Hay fever: This is a condition characterized by sneezing, rhinorrhea, nasal obstruction and often accompanied by itchy eyes, nose and palate.
Cough, irritability, postnasal drip and fatigue may also occur. Patients may have concomitant allergic conjunctivitis +/- asthma. Skin prick tests to assess environmental triggers, anti-histamines, anti-inflammatory nasal sprays and nasal washouts form part of the management of this condition.
Allergic conjunctivitis: This is a condition characterized by red, itchy eyes accompanied by an eye discharge occurring seasonally or all year round. Management includes trigger avoidance, anti-inflammatory eye drops and regular follow-up.
Asthma: This is a chronic inflammatory disease of the lungs and is the most common cause of chronic lung disease in children. Several studies assessing the natural history of wheezing and asthma in children show 2 groups of children; i) Children with intermittent symptoms usually triggered by viral infections and who tend to outgrow symptoms; ii) Children with later-onset of disease with more persistent symptoms usually characterized by a positive family history of asthma and increased risk of progression into later life.
Management involves correct diagnosis, trigger avoidance (tobacco smoke, air pollutants etc) use of inhalers with spacers and regular follow-up.
Chronic urticaria: This is a condition characterized by the recurrence of wheals/hives, +/- angioedema and lasting for longer than 6 weeks.
This could be due to a spontaneous cause (usually autoimmune in nature) or physically triggered (water, solar, heat, vibration, cold etc).
Management involves avoidance triggers and use of anti-histamines (once underlying disease or pathology is ruled out).
Food allergies: Thi often appears in the first 2 years of life. They occur due to the immune system perceiving a certain food protein as dangerous resulting in the production of chemicals that trigger an allergic reaction.
The amount of the food protein causing the reaction varies across individuals (some patients are triggered by trace amounts). Patients with concurrent asthma have an increased risk of a severe reaction.
Certain food allergies, such as those to cow’s milk and hen’s egg, are usually outgrown during childhood or adolescence, whereas peanut and tree nut allergies are more likely to persist into adulthood or may develop in later childhood or adulthood.
Other common food allergies include soy, wheat, fish and shellfish.
Management includes confirmation of the allergies through skin prick testing/ blood tests, trigger avoidance, regular follow-up and oral food challenges (introducing a food previously causing an allergy to check if the allergy has been outgrown) and support by the dietician.
Drug allergies: The commonest drug allergies include Beta lactam antibiotics (such as penicillin’s, cephalosporin), NSAIDS (such as brufen, paracetamol) and anesthetic drugs.
Management includes confirmation of the diagnosis, avoidance and clear labeling in the patient file/notes including Medic Alert Bracelets and issuance of an EpiPen.
Bee or wasp allergies: These allergies are a result of an overreaction by the immune system to venom released upon being stung by a bee or wasp.
Reactions vary from mild to severe (anaphylaxis). Anaphylaxis is life-threatening and may resent with 2/more of the following: itching and hives, swelling in the throat or tongue, difficulty breathing, dizziness, stomach cramps, nausea or diarrhea.
In severe cases, a rapid fall in blood pressure may result in shock and loss of consciousness.
Management includes confirmation of the allergy, avoidance measures, issuance of an EpiPen and immunotherapy (only select candidates).
According to Dr Ng’ang’a children can develop allergies at any age. The sooner these allergies are identified, the sooner they can be treated, minimizing the symptoms and improving quality of life.
-Allergy Symptoms in Children-
Skin rashes or hives (atopic dermatisis or eczema)
Difficulty breathing (asthma)
Sneezing, coughing, a runny nose or itchy eyes
– Common Allergy triggers in Children-
Outdoors: tree pollen, plant pollen, insect bites or stings
Indoors: pet or animal hair or fur, dust mites, mold
Irritants: cigarette smoke, perfume, car exhaust
Foods: peanuts, eggs, milk and milk products
-Can one heal from allergies-?
There is currently no cure for allergies. However, there are OTC and prescription medications that may relieve symptoms.
Avoiding allergy triggers or reducing contact with them can help prevent allergic reactions. Over time, immunotherapy may reduce the severity of allergic reactions,” Dr Ng’ang’a explained.
–Home remedies for allergies–
“Allergies are typically treated with a variety of approaches which often include medications and allergy shots. There are, however, natural and home remedies for allergies that one might consider,” noted Dr Ng’ang’a.
Some of the Natural Remedies include; Probiotics; A 2015 review Trusted Source of 23 studies indicated that pro-biotics may help improve symptoms of allergic rhinitis.
Honey; although there’s no scientific evidence to prove it, a popular theory suggests eating locally produced honey. According to the theory, you will lower your allergic reaction over time to the pollen that the bees collect in your area to make their honey.
Air conditioners and dehumidifiers; By removing moisture from the air, air conditioners and dehumidifiers can limit the growth of mildew and the mold that can negatively impact allergies.
Vitamin C; Practitioners of natural medication suggest taking 2000 milligrams of vitamin C daily to reduce histamine levels etc.
While there’s some evidence that home remedies for allergies can be effective, it is advisable to discuss them with your doctor before trying them out.
“Get a full diagnosis and take the Doctor’s suggestions on what is best for you and your personal situation,” Dr. Ng’ang’a emphasized.
The Nairobi Hospital joins two other health facilities in the country in the provision of Pediatric Allergy services in the country.
The Pediatric Allergy Clinic at the Nairobi Hospital will be operational on Mondays only from 8.30am-3.30pm on appointments only with other rare conditions such as Hereditary Angioedema and Primary Immunodeficiency’s forming part of the evaluation at the allergy clinic.