Allergies are among the fastest growing chronic conditions in childhood. Allergic rhinitis (hay fever) alone is the third most common chronic disease in U.S. kids, affecting up to 40 percent of the population, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI).
Researchers don’t fully understand why allergies are on the rise, but there are interesting theories. One likely culprit: our squeaky clean lifestyles. Most kids today aren’t exposed to enough germs to help their immune systems learn the difference between harmless and harmful substances. Even global warming may play a role. Studies have linked climate change to longer pollen seasons. Some believe that improvements in medicine, ironically, contribute by decreasing the number of diseases children face. As a result of these factors, the immune system, which is designed to protect us, may overreact to otherwise harmless things like pollen, mold and pet dander.
Genetics play an important role, too. Kids who have one parent with allergies are 25 percent more likely to develop them than children whose parents don’t have allergies. When both parents have allergies, kids are up to 70 percent more likely to experience them. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), white children are more likely to have hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, than black or Asian children. Black children are more likely to have food or skin allergies. And Hispanic children are the least likely to experience allergies overall.
Allergies can emerge in the first several years of a child’s life. One of the first indications: eczema, or atopic dermatitis, which results in skin rash and itchiness, and can affect babies in the first few months of life. Children can show signs of airborne or food allergies by age two or three.
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