Childhood allergies in Singapore are not unheard of. We all know of someone’s child who broke out into an awful rash after playing with a cat, someone’s baby who is allergic to formula milk or someone else’s child who had to be hospitalised for some severe allergic reaction.
There are many types of childhood allergies in Singapore. They vary in their characteristics and severity.
While we can’t possibly protect our children from every possible allergy under the sun, it is useful to have some basic knowledge at our fingertips.
Dr. Sri Jakka, International Medical Clinic, shares with us information on pet, drug and food childhood allergies in Singapore.
Dr. Sri is a specialist in asthma and allergies. Please call 69974440 if you wish to make an appointment.
Before we delve deeper into food-related childhood allergies in Singapore, we need to understand what exactly a food allergy is. A food allergy is an immunologically mediated reaction against food.
Simply put, similar to how our body’s immune system fights infection, it also produces substances that react to food.
Dr. Sri states that the overall incidence of food allergies is less in Singapore as compared to the West. The common causes of childhood allergies in Singapore are shellfish and peanuts.
In fact, shellfish is the most common food allergen in Singapore and is ubiquitous in Southeast Asia likely because of how highly it is consumed.
Shellfish allergy continues into adulthood and is cited as the most common cause of food anaphylaxis in the Singapore adult population. So do be very careful when introducing your child to shellfish.
The good news is that rates of egg, milk and fish childhood allergies in Singapore generally remain low.
Birds’ nest is yummy, but also a culprit for childhood allergies in Singapore
Dr. Sri shares that bird’s nest allergy is unique to Singapore. This is likely to be because of the high consumption of this Chinese delicacy. In fact, some Singaporeans have died after experiencing severe allergic reactions to the soup.
Galactooligosaccharides (GOS) is a probiotic commonly found in milk formulas in Asia. In recent times, GOS allergy in Singapore and Southeast Asia has come to light.
GOS allergy may strike in children who were not previously allergic to cow’s milk. They may suddenly develop anaphylaxis (rashes and wheezing). More cases of GOS allergies are being reported in this region.
So mums, if you are changing your child’s milk, or introducing a new brand, please take it slow and easy. Start out with smaller quantities and watch closely for any adverse reactions.
Signs and Symptoms of Food Allergies
The typical symptoms of an allergic reaction to food are wheezing, a possible asthma attack, hives, itchiness, sneezing or blocked nose, vomiting or stomach discomfort.
The onset of these symptoms usually begins within half an hour of consuming food that the child is allergic to. Symptoms can last up to 24 hours.
Severe allergic reaction
Severe childhood allergies in Singapore are caused by food followed by drugs states Dr. Sri. The common food culprits for severe allergic reactions are peanuts, followed by eggs, shellfish and birds’ nest.
Dr. Sri shares that he recently saw a child who developed a severe rash and breathing difficulties upon consuming peanut butter. Fortunately, he was treated in time to prevent further deterioration.
Prevention is better than cure. Avoiding the suspected allergen wherever possible can prevent childhood allergies in Singapore.
When a child develops an allergic reaction, antihistamine is the anti-allergy medication that is most commonly prescribed.
Antihistamines are commonly prescribed to treat childhood allergies in Singapore
In severe cases, the child may have to be admitted and treated in the hospital. In such unfortunate incidents, time is of the essence. Should your child display any signs of breathing difficulties please do not think twice to rush him to the hospital.
Apart from food allergies, childhood allergies in Singapore also involve:
- Lungs. The airways in the lungs allow air to come in and out of the lungs. If your child has asthma, their airways are always inflamed. When the symptoms are triggered, the airways become even more swollen and the muscles may tighten.
- Nose. Irritation and inflammation of the mucous membrane inside of the nose is known as Rhinitis. Common symptoms of this condition include a stuffy nose, runny nose, sneezing and post-nasal drip. The most common kind of rhinitis is allergic rhinitis, which is easily triggered by airborne allergens such as pollen and dander.
- Eyes. Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, is inflammation of the outermost layer of the white part of the eye and the eyelid. Itching of the eye is more common in cases due to allergies. Children with this condition may experience pain, burning, scratchiness or itchiness in the eye.
- Skin. Eczema is a condition where parts of your skin become inflamed, itchy, red, cracked, and rough. Blistering may also occur. Children who have eczema are at higher risk for getting allergies and asthma. While most types of eczema are not allergies, the condition is aggravated when children are around things that cause an allergic reaction. Their body’s immune system may overreact to allergens such as dust mite, pollen, pet dander and certain types of food.
Although childhood allergies in Singapore are less common than in the West, studies have shown a modest increase in eczema in Singaporean children over the past decades.
RELATED: Ask the expert about allergies in children
Allergies to cats and dogs
Childhood allergies in Singapore commonly include pet allergies as well. While our little ones may be fond of their furry friends, here are some things we need to know about them.
Cats make beautiful pets but they are known to be a cause of childhood allergies in Singapore.
For cats, the allergens are found on the fur, skin, and in saliva. If you think that keeping your cat away from your child or quarantining your cat limits the allergens, then I’m afraid you are mistaken.
Dr. Sri cautions that as long as there is a cat in the home, the allergens will find their way to every corner of the house. Worse, if you have long fur cats, you can be sure to find their fur in every nook and cranny. Don’t be surprised if it makes its way into your food even!
In the case of dogs, the allergens are found in dog hair, dander, saliva and their urine. Dr. Sri explains that dog allergen levels increase if the dog lives indoors and are higher in the rooms where a dog is allowed.
In general, all cats and dogs produce allergens. In addition, dust and pollen on the animal’s coat can also cause allergy symptoms.
Symptoms of pet allergy
According to Dr. Sri, these are the telltale symptoms that your child is allergic to your pet – 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.
Treating pet allergies
Dr. Sri advises that 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.
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 the case of children having severe allergic symptoms or children requiring medication for a long time to control their symptoms.
If you find your child sneezing more than usual it could be because of your pet | Image source: iStock
Sometimes the symptoms do not show up immediately. They can form gradually and worsen over time. A personal experience would be my son’s allergic reaction to my cats.
What started off as an innocuous cough that occurred every now and then turned into prolonged episodes of coughing. The coughing got so bad that at times he would be up all night coughing. He even coughed to a point that he threw up.
He started falling ill more often and hives would occasionally appear. Knowing these trademark signs, I took him to the paediatrician with a heavy heart.
The paediatrician made no attempt to mince his words:
If you wish to keep your cats it is at the expense of your child’s health and wellbeing. Decide for yourself. I hope you make the right decision.
An added consideration was that my partner suffered from childhood asthma. With the possibility of inheriting asthma, the risk was twofold for my son.
Having no choice, I had to make arrangements to find my three furry friends new homes. True to what the doctor had advised, my son’s condition improved greatly after the cats were removed.
Mums, here is some personal advice. If you are planning to have kids and you do not already have a pet, it is best to avoid getting one at this point. It would be terribly heartbreaking if you have to part with it eventually.
Also, if you are pregnant, due to the possibility of toxoplasmosis, you should not be coming into any form of contact with cats’ poop.
Toxoplasmosis isn’t typically harmful to people with healthy immune systems. However, during pregnancy, it can infect the placenta and your unborn baby. Toxoplasmosis can cause stillbirth, structural and neurological damage and other birth defects.
Advice to parents with pets
Here is what Dr. Sri has 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, do follow these strategies to reduce 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.
- Use high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) cleaners and a high-efficiency vacuum cleaner to reduce allergen levels in the air.
- Give your pets a bath at least once a week to reduce airborne allergens.
Mums, childhood allergies in Singapore may not be alarmingly common but they do happen. If your children happen to be affected, we hope this information comes in handy.
References: https://www.nuh.com.sg/ktp-nucmi/clinical-care/disease-and-conditions/allergies/food-allergy.html, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4291979/
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