1) What are some of the less known food allergies that Singaporean toddlers suffer from?
The overall incidence of food allergies is less in Singapore compared to the West. The common causes of allergies in Singapore are shellfish and peanuts. Some of the allergies unique to Singapore include allergies to birds nest (eaten as a delicacy) and oligosaccharides (used in some milk formulae).
2) In your practice, what are the allergies that you commonly see in toddlers? (Other than food allergy)
Apart from food allergies, allergic reactions can also involve the lungs (asthma), nose and eyes (rhinitis and conjunctivitis) and the skin (eczema). Allergies in general are less common in Singapore children compared to the West. However, studies have shown a modest increase in eczema in Singaporean children over the past decades.
3) How do you treat these allergies?
Allergies can be treated by avoiding the suspected allergen wherever possible. If a child gets exposed and develops an allergic reaction, he/she can be treated with antihistamine (anti allergy) medications. In severe cases the child may have to be admitted and treated in hospital.
4) In your practice, have you encountered a case of a child having a severe allergic reaction? Could you share a little bit more on the experience?
In Singapore, severe allergic reactions in children are commonly caused by foods, followed by drugs. Among the foods, the common causes of severe allergic reaction are peanuts followed by eggs, shellfish and birdsnest. I recently saw a child who developed severe rash and breathing difficulties after eating peanut butter. Fortunately, he was treated in time to prevent further deterioration.
5) How common is allergy to pet fur? Is it worse for cats than dogs?
For cats, the allergens are found on the fur and skin and in saliva. Keeping the cat in one room only will not limit the allergens to that room. In the case of dogs, the allergens are found in dog hair, dander, saliva and urine. Dog allergen levels increase if the dog lives indoors and are higher in the rooms where a dog is allowed. All cats and dogs produce allergens. In addition, dust and pollen on the animal’s coat can also cause allergy symptoms.
6) What are the symptoms that the toddler is allergic to pet fur?
The symptoms that a child could experience include respiratory symptoms like sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and wheezing; eye symptoms like watery, red or itchy eyes; skin symptoms like skin rash or hives.
7) How to treat such an allergy?
Children ideally should avoid being around dogs and cats. However, if they have a pet at home; specific steps to limit exposure should be taken. Once symptoms develop, they can be controlled with allergy medications like nasal sprays, antihistamines and bronchodilators.
8) In what situation would it be an ultimatum to shift the pet out of the house?
Avoidance is the best way to manage pet allergy. Pet allergy can be confirmed by allergy testing. In cases of proven allergy to pets, consider removing the pet from the home. This is particularly true in case of children having severe allergic symptoms or children requiring medication for a long time to control their symptoms.
9) Is there anything you would like to say to parents with young children and pets in the same house?
If your family wants to keep the pets even though someone in the household is allergic, here are some strategies to reduce the allergen exposure:
- Keep the pet out of your bedroom and restrict it to only a few rooms.
- Avoid petting, hugging or kissing the cat or dog; if you do, wash your hands with soap and water.
- High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) cleaners and use of a high-efficiency vacuum cleaner can reduce allergen levels in the air.
- Giving your pets a bath at least once a week can reduce airborne allergens.