Allergies can play havoc with a child’s ability to benefit from teaching. Some forms of ‘hyperactivity,’ short attention spans and mood swings are caused by allergies and intolerances for certain foods and other environmental factors.
There is much controversy in the medical and related fields concerning allergies and their identification, including the types of tests used to identify allergens (the substance that causes the body to show an allergic reaction). In fact, much about allergies is unknown.
What is known? We know that the white blood cells (also known as lymphocytes) are a fundamental component of the immune system that protects our bodies from invaders. When they make a mistake, an allergic response can occur.
In other words, the blood cells of an allergic person are “misinformed’ at the genetic level and cause the production of large quantities of IgE antibodies. The antibody becomes attached on one side to the food/substance molecule and on the other side to a mast cell (mast cells are a type of cell containing histamine and other allergy mediators instrumental in the allergic response). When this happens, histamines and other chemicals are released from the mast cells, causing such immediate responses as runny nose, itchy eyes, skin rashes and indigestion. IgE can cause anaphylaxis, an extreme, sometimes even life-threatening response in which the airways swell, sometimes to the point where the person cannot breathe.
Signs of allergies and intolerances
Take a long, serious look at your child. Obvious changes sometimes occur in the physical appearance of children and adults who have typical allergies, or food or chemical sensitivities.
Perhaps you recognise a characteristic “spacey” or at times almost “demonic” look in a child’s eyes when he or she suddenly becomes “impossible.” These looks are sometimes accompanied by characteristic sounds, such as throat-clearing and clucking. The latter is typical, in particular, of a dairy or milk sensitivity. Some mothers complain that their children make strange noises at home or at school. A few whine and say the same phrase over and over. In addition, children (and adults) can develop a hoarse voice or red ears or cheeks due to food or chemical exposure. Other symptoms include slurred or rapid speech.
The effects of chemical odours, such as perfume or certain cleaning materials, tend to occur within seconds or a very few minutes. Food reactions take fifteen to sixty minutes to become apparent. A reaction to dust or moulds usually occurs within an hour. Parents can often pinpoint the cause merely by thinking back over what happened. For example, if red earlobes, a severe headache, or wiggly legs occur half an hour after lunch, it would be logical to assume the symptoms are possibly related to something that was eaten. If the problem is eczema, watch the arm and leg creases: these areas commonly become red and itchy during meals or immediately after contact with dust, moulds, or certain foods. The actual rash, however, will not develop until the next day. Also suspect food allergies/sensitivities if your child has any form of intestinal complaints after eating. If dark eye circles and muscle aches routinely occur after gym, art, chemistry or biology class, or after a shower, suspect a reaction to a chemical exposure. If these changes occur after play on freshly cut grass, suspect grass pollen. If a child’s nose becomes itchy and drippy, or if asthma and coughing get worse after tumbling on gym mats or playing on an old carpet, the cause could be dust, moulds, or both. If a youngster becomes wild and uncontrollable and has a peculiar spaced-out look after using a bathroom that smells of scented body preparations, deodorants or disinfectants, suspect chemicals.
Parents should learn to watch for dark eye circles (which can be black, blue or pink), red earlobes (sometimes becoming so hot that ice is needed to provide relief), nose-rubbing, skin-scratching, wiggly legs, yawning and various throaty sounds. Small, horizontal wrinkles under the eyes are typical of allergic children, especially those who have eczema. Abnormally red rosy cheeks can occur in anyone, but they are particularly characteristic of allergic children two to four years old and of adult females who have multiple food or chemical allergies.
Facial twitches or tics, along with restless legs, are very common in some children. Other muscles also can go into and out of spasm causing discomfort or pain. Foods, moulds and chemical odours, such as the smell of tar or perfume, are common but unsuspected causes.
Hives, which look like mosquito bites, are often caused by foods, dust, moulds or chemicals. More generalised rashes can be caused by a chronic yeast infection (often following anti-biotic treatment), by contact with formaldehyde in polyester clothing or bedding or by some chemical found in a laundry detergent or fabric softener.
Stomach pains, ‘winds’, nausea, diarrhea, constipation or halitosis are commonly caused by an allergy to food or drink. Recurrent headaches are another very common allergic symptom in all age groups. The pain may occur above or behind the eyes or on the sides, back or top of head. Yeast overgrowths may be caused by repeated courses of antibiotics (in children, frequently used to medicate ear infections or tonsillitis. A white-coated tongue is a common indication of excess yeast.
Sudden unprovoked aggression in both children and adults can be related to allergy. It is often associated with red earlobes, wiggly legs, dark eye circles and a special ‘look’. Behaviour may include hitting, biting, kicking, spitting and punching.
For twenty years I have seen more than a thousand children with allergies and sensitivities in my practice. The number seem to be increasing in the last decade. I wonder why?