There's nothing more frightening for new parents than the thought that their child may be sick. While most parents do well keeping their child away from common cold and flu germs, not everyone takes into account the affect household allergens may have on a newborn. Common respiratory symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, coughing and difficulty breathing are often examples of allergic rhinitis, or respiratory allergies, and are caused by a simple factor in the child's environment. Dust mites, pet dander, mold, pollen -young children can develop allergies to a number of everyday things. Luckily, removing allergens and thus preventing or reducing allergic reactions can be a very easy process. The most important part of the process, though, is knowing what you're up against.
It is important to understand what respiratory allergens are if you expect to protect your child from them. An allergy is an immune reaction to an irritable substance in the child's environment. The child's body views these irritants as dangerous and releases chemicals, such as histamines, that cause uncomfortable and potentially harmful symptoms. While a child may eventually develop immunity to these irritants, untreated or ignored allergic symptoms can lead to such respiratory problems as asthma and emphysema.
The most common allergens are dust mites, animal dander and molds. Dust mites are microscopic organisms that live in carpets and fabrics and feed on dead flakes of human and animal skin. Children can develop respiratory allergies from inhaling accumulated mites in areas that aren't cleaned properly or regularly. Bedding, clothing and comforters should be washed in hot water at least once a week. For additional protection, cribs and beds should be covered with an impermeable mattress encasement. These covers act as a barrier between your baby and allergy-causing dust mites. It is also important to vacuum and dust weekly; a vacuum cleaner with a high efficiency particulate arresting (HEPA) filter helps trap particles normal dusting and vacuuming can miss. It is also important to clean or replace heating ducts, furnace and air conditioning filters whenever they're in use.
Stuffed animals and plush toys can also be a haven for dust mites. Make sure you wash your child's favorite plush toys as often as you would his or her bedding and clothing.
Pet dander is another common household allergen. Unfortunately, the only sure-fire way to protect your child from dander is to give the animal away. This can often be a very difficult and heartbreaking decision, but if your child's allergic reaction is severe it may be the only option. If your child has only a mild allergy you might consider simply keeping the animal well-groomed, shampooed, off furniture and out of the child's room.
Mold is a versatile and particularly irksome allergen. Molds can grow in closets, attics, cellars, planters, refrigerators, showers, garbage cans, mattresses, carpets -just about any warm, moist area in the house. Mold allergies are caused by the spores the mold uses to reproduce. These spores can cause significant health problems. The best way to prevent mold growth is to keep the air in troublesome areas of your home dry. A dehumidifier can help keep air dry in the winter, while a good air conditioner can achieve the same effect in the summer. Keeping high-risk areas clean is also important--use mold-inhibiting disinfectants such as bleach or tea tree oil and water.
Of course, any respiratory symptoms should be checked by your child's physician. Most doctors won't prescribe allergy medication to newborns, especially children younger than six months, but they may have treatment options that better fit your child's specific allergy problem.
It's fairly easy to determine whether your child is going to have a tendency to be allergic. Allergic tendencies are inherited, though specific allergies are not. If either you or your mate is allergic to cats, for instance, your child will have a fifty percent chance of developing some sort of allergy as well, though not necessarily to cats. Allergies also take a while to develop. Newborns may not show symptoms of allergic reactions for a few months; then, suddenly, the child's exposure level to mites, mold or dander will reach its threshold and the child will start to develop symptoms.
Newborn allergies can be a scary experience for parents, especially if you are unprepared for them. The best way to help treat allergies is to prevent them before your child is even home from the hospital. Thoroughly clean and disinfect any areas the newborn will occupy, invest in proper ventilation and vacuum symptoms, and keep clothes and bedding washed regularly and protected with impermeable covers. Taking care of a newborn can bring about a number of unforeseen obstacles, but with proper preparation, common household allergens don't need to be one of them.
~Ben Anton, 2008
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