Allergies in children are on the rise all over the world and the UAE is no exception. The common allergic problems seen in children are allergic rhinitis (hayfever), asthma, eczema, food allergy, drug allergy and anaphylaxis. Unlike the western world where pollens are the main cause of seasonal allergies, house dust mites (HDM) are the most common aeroallergen in the UAE. House dust mites are ubiquitous, invisible microorganisms present in household settings especially in the bedroom environment. Unlike pollens which causes seasonal allergies, HDM causes problems throughout the year (perennial allergic rhinitis), though symptoms can vary in some seasons. Measures like washing bedroom linen with temperature more than 60°C and changing the linens frequently help reduce the load of house dust mites. Using vacuum cleaners fitted with HEPA filters, avoiding carpets and soft toys are also useful. There is insufficient scientific evidence to prove the effectiveness of air purifiers, deep cleaning etc. to contain allergies. Contrary to the belief, humidifiers worsen allergies as HDM multiply more in a humid environment and hence they are not recommended.
Allergies often confuse the patients and doctors because the manifestations are similar to other common problems and hence they are underrecognised and undertreated. For example, if a common cold keeps recurring in a school going toddler, it is not easy for the family or even the general practitioner to differentiate it from allergy. As allergy problems tend to persist long-term, patients require continuous medication which requires commitment and motivation from the parents and the children. Though parents may recognise that their child is suffering from allergy they may not know the causative allergen. An allergist helps in identifying the allergen through simple tests like a skin prick test or blood test. Identifying and avoiding the culprit allergen reduces the need for long term medication in many patients significantly.
Allergic disorders affect children’s daily activities in many ways. Parents may find it difficult to recogniae this, as children do not report it. For example, night sleep of children with allergic rhinitis could be significantly disturbed due to ongoing nasal congestion, blockage and snoring. The disturbed night sleep could lead to irritability during the daytime, impaired concentration and poor scholastic performance. Similarly, children with eczema have poor sleep due to itching of the skin. In addition, many children with eczema have low self-esteem due to their skin problems, have poor social interaction with peers and are often found to be bullied in the school. While considering the treatment options, it is the responsibility of parents to think about the quality-of-life impairment of their children and themselves, as proper treatment from allergist has shown to improve not only the medical condition causing allergy but also the quality of life of the whole family.