Baby & Newborn Allergies: Q&A with Dr Aditi Mohankumar

Dr. Mohankumar graduated from the University of Chicago in 2006 with Departmental Honors in Biology.  She graduated Magna cum laude from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, PA in June 2011. Dr. Mohankumar served many hours as a volunteer with autistic children at the Interact Program at the Allegro School in Cedar Knolls. During her term in Medical School, she volunteered her time to provide health care services to the homeless population in Philadelphia and spent six months in India providing basic medical services to indigenous communities. Dr. Mohankumar completed her five year residency in Otolaryngology at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in June 2016 and currently practices with Advocare Aroesty ENT Associates.

Here, she answers some of our questions on allergies in babies & newborns.

  1. How early can allergy set in, in a newborn?

Usually, you won’t see allergies immediately after birth. It typically takes a few months to develop. You may start seeing signs, few months into life, like eczema, which is an irritation of the skin. The allergies that we talk about, like seasonal allergies or outdoor allergies set in later, at 5 or 6 years.

  1. What kinds of allergies are there?

There are lots of allergies that people can develop – there’s food allergies, which is because of something you ingest, topical allergies which is from things touching your skin causing a local reaction, environmental allergies from dust, pollen, mold, that you are exposed to and breathing in.

  1. How can parents recognize an allergy attack?

There are a lot of symptoms that parents can look out for: the child may get some itchy patches on the skin, or is congested, has a runny nose and itchy watery eyes. Sometimes even a chronic cough can be allergy related.

  1. One hears that breastfeeding can reduce onset or incidence of allergies – is that true?

There is a lot of debate about whether this is true or not. We all know that breastfeeding is good for our babies and we should try to exclusively breastfeed for the first 4-6 months of life. There is evidence that suggests that breastfeeding may help some high risk babies but there is no clear evidence to support it.

  1. Is there anything parents can do to actually prevent allergies?

Unfortunately, a lot of it is in our DNA, so if there is a really strong family history of allergies, there’s not a ton we can do about it. What parents can do is limit exposure to the allergens. For instance, if your child has dust mite allergies, there’s things you can help them prevent getting allergy symptoms. There’s a lot of evidence that suggest that early exposure to things, like having pets in the house can help prevent allergies later in life.

  1. What are seasonal allergies? Who does it affect most?

We classify allergies as seasonal and perennial allergies. With seasonal allergies, one has symptoms at specific seasons of the year. For instance, if you have pollen allergies, you might have more symptoms in spring; if you have dust and mold allergies, you might have more symptoms in the winter.

Seasonal allergies are quite common, affecting 30-40% of the population.

  1. Do babies outgrow their allergies?

We think most babies don’t probably outgrow their allergies. The way that allergies present can change over time. A lot of adults who come with asthma may have a strong history of allergy in their childhood. There’s probably a small percentage of kids who fully outgrow their allergies in their teenage years.

  1. What should parents watch out for?

You can look for early signs of allergies in your child – if you see them with sniffles, sneezing, itchy eyes… or if you notice them wheezing, those are symptoms to watch out for. Also be wary, kids get diagnosed with a lot of infections like recurrent upper respiratory infections. A lot of times those can be undiagnosed allergies.

  1. How can parents support a normal childhood for kids with allergies?

There are lots of things parents can do, like avoiding allergens – for instance, if they are allergic to dogs, you might have to avoid dogs. If the child is allergic to dust mites, you can use things like barrier mattress and pillowcases, make sure you don’t have that much carpeting. There are things you can do that are pharmacologic – there’s lots of medication out there that can help kids lead very normal active lives and manage their symptoms. If those don’t work, there are things you can talk to your doctor or allergist about – for instance, doing immunotherapy, commonly known as allergy shots.

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