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Your Baby

“Furry Pets” May Help Kids Avoid Some Allergies


You might think that having pets would be a nightmare if you have small children with a family history of allergies. A new study says that furry pets may actually help protect children against some allergies.

The infants’ mothers had a history of allergy, so the babies were at increased risk too, and it was once thought that pets might be a trigger for allergies in such children, the authors point out in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

“Earlier it was thought that exposure to pets early in childhood was a risk factor for developing allergic disease,” said Dr. Merja Nermes of the University of Turku in Finland, who coauthored the research letter. “Later epidemiologic studies have given contradictory results and even suggested that early exposure to pets may be protective against allergies, though the mechanisms of this protective effect have remained elusive.”

Adding pet microbes to the infant intestinal biome may strengthen the immune system, she told Reuters Health by email.

The study team collected fecal samples from diapers when the babies were one month of age and these were tested for the DNA of two types of Bifidobacteria that are found specifically in animal guts: B. thermophilum and B. pseudolongum.

One third of infants from the pet-exposed group had animal-specific bifidobacteria in their fecal samples, compared to 14 percent of the comparison group. It’s not clear where the infants without furry pets at home acquired their gut bacteria, the authors write.

When the babies were six months old they had skin prick tests to assess allergies to cow’s milk, egg white, flours, cod, soybeans, birch, grasses, cat, dog, potato, banana and other allergens.

At six months of age, 19 infants had reactions to at least one of the allergens tested. None of these infants had B. thermophilum bacteria in their fecal samples.

Other studies have pointed out the connection between kids exposed to farm animals and household pets and building a better immune system.

“When infants and furry pets live in a close contact in the same household, transfer of microbiota between pets and infants occurs,” Nermes said. “For example, when a dog licks the infant´s face or hand, the pet-derived microbiota can end up via the mouth into the infant´s intestine.”

Human-specific Bifidobacteria have beneficial health effects, and animal-specific strains may also be beneficial, she said. It is still unclear, however, if exposure to these bacteria protects against allergies later in life, she said.

“Future research is needed to assess if these infants develop less atopic dermatitis, asthma or allergic rhinitis later,” she said.

Nermes also noted that she believes pediatricians should not discourage pregnant women or parents of infants from having pets in order to prevent allergies.

“If a family with a pregnant mother or an infant wants to have a pet, the family can be encouraged to have one, because the development of allergic disease cannot be prevented by avoiding pets,” she said.

Source: Kathryn Doyle,



Your Child

The Eczema, Allergies and Asthma March


Eczema refers to a number of different skin conditions in which the skin becomes red and irritated and sometimes has small, fluid filled bumps that ooze.

The most common cause of eczema is atopic dermatitis (sometimes called infantile eczema), which affects older kids as well as infants.

Children with eczema may eventually get food allergies, hay fever, or asthma. But you can take steps to soothe the itch and possibly cut the risk of allergies.

While most experts don't think eczema is purely allergic, it's clearly connected to allergic conditions like food allergies, hay fever, and asthma.

·      Up to 80% of kids with eczema get hay fever or asthma later in childhood.

·       35% of adults with asthma or nasal allergies had eczema as kids.

·      If a mom has allergies, there's almost a 1 in 3 chance that her baby will have eczema.

·      37% of kids with moderate to severe eczema also have food allergies.

For some kids, eczema and allergies develop in a specific order, as they get older. It starts with eczema, then food allergies, then asthma, and then hay fever. It's called the allergic march.

But just because your child has eczema doesn't mean they'll get these other conditions. It just means there's a higher risk.

There are several things that can increase a child’s risk of being part of the allergic march.  Kids who get eczema at a young age may be more likely to have allergies or asthma later. Kids with worse eczema symptoms may be more likely to get allergies or asthma.

You can do some things that might lower your child's chances of worsening eczema, asthma, or allergies. The evidence isn't clear, so talk to your doctor or your child's pediatrician. Depending on the situation, the doctor might recommend:

Breastfeeding your baby: It might lower the risk of eczema, later allergies, or asthma.

Diet changes: If your baby has a high risk of allergic problems, some doctors recommend changes in diet. Breastfeeding for at least 4 months can help protect your child. “Hydrolyzed” formula might help protect formula-fed babies.

Other ways to keep your child's eczema under control include:

Get allergy testing. If you can pin the problem on a specific allergen, you can figure out ways to avoid it.

Use a moisturizer. Go for thick creams and ointments that stop the skin from drying out.

Keep fingernails short. Your child will do less damage to the skin from scratching.

Avoid irritants. Always use unscented soap and laundry detergent. Stay away from cigarette smoke.

Watch for problems. If your child's eczema seems to be getting worse -- or if they get allergy symptoms, like congestion or a runny nose -- see a doctor. The sooner you get treatment, the sooner your child will feel better.

In many cases, eczema goes into remission and symptoms may disappear altogether for months or even years.

For many kids, it begins to improve by the age of 5 or 6; others may have flare-ups throughout adolescence and early adulthood.

In some kids, the condition may improve but then restart as they enter puberty, when hormones, stress, and irritating skin products or cosmetics are introduced. Some people will have some degree of dermatitis into adulthood, with areas of itching and a dry, scaly appearance.

Eczema is not contagious, so there's no need to keep a baby or child who has it away from siblings, other kids, or anyone else.

Story sources;




Daily Dose

Spring Allergies

1:30 to read

I just came in from walking my dog and found myself sneezing and rubbing my nose….funny I didn’t think I had allergies!!  But, all of the pollen blowing around right now not only coats your car and yard, but is coating your nasal passages, eyes and being inhaled into your upper respiratory tract as well causing all sorts of issues with seasonal allergies.

This year is proving to be a big allergy season as most of the U.S. had a mild wet winter which is a perfect “storm” for spring allergies. Tree pollen is the biggest culprit right now, and depending where you live it may be oak, elm, mulberry, maple, pecan, aspen….. but all are producing pollen that are blowing in the spring wind.

At this time of the year many people think they have a cold rather than allergies, but there are several distinguishing features.  With a cold, which is due to a virus,  not only do you have a runny nose and cough, you often feel achey and may have a low grade fever and sore throat and the symptoms usually last for 7-10 days and then improve. With allergies you may have itchy or watery eyes, and a clear runny nose which may sometimes trigger a cough, especially in children who have underlying asthma. You may also find that your child has 2 bad days, then several good days rather than continuous symptoms like a cold. Even though seasonal allergies are often called “hayfever” there is no fever associated with allergies. Many a parent with a 2 year old comes into the office with their child complaining of a fever of 102, runny nose and cough, and they think their child may have allergies and can go to school…..not so.

Seasonal allergies in children typically present between the ages of 2  - 6 years and occur in up to 10 - 15% of children. Parents may start to notice that their child always has red rimmed eyes and runny nose in March, April as tree pollens emerge, or are worse in June as grass pollen becomes an issue…. all pointing towards allergies. 

Fortunately, many of the best products to help prevent and control seasonal allergies are available over the counter.  Anti-histamines are the mainstay for allergies for those who have occasional problems. There are both older sedating anti-histamines like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and newer non-sedating medications such as loratadine (Claritin), cetirizine  (Zyrtec), fexofenadine (Allegra).  All come in both liquid and pill form and some have orally disintegrating tablets which are wonderful for a young child who cannot yet swallow a pill but balks at liquid medications.  (Good time to also discuss how to swallow a pill!).  

For children who have known seasonal allergies or ongoing issues I encourage daily steroid nasal spray use - which is a preventative measure to help block the allergic cascade from occurring. You can now buy fluticasone ( Flonase), Mometasone (Nasonex), budesonide (Rhinocort) and triamcinolone (Nascort) all over the counter. Even a young child over the age of 4 years  (they are often used in even younger children when prescribed by your pediatrician) may use a steroid nasal spray daily during allergy seaon.   Using these nose sprays for extended periods of time has been associated with a slight decrease in growth velocity while being used, so discuss this with your pediatrician. 

I typically also recommend a nasal saline solution like Little Remedies to irrigate the nose before using the steroid spray. Not only does this help to wash out any pollen that has adhered inside the nostril, it clears the airway so that the steroid nasal spray may be more effective. Teaching your child to blow their nose after irrigating it is a huge milestone as well, and helps prevent ear infections and sinus infections….keep practicing blowing.

Playing outside at this time of year is always encouraged, but if your child seems to be developing allergies make sure to bathe them and wash their hair (and eyelashes)  when they come in at the end of the day. Irrigate their nose, use a daily OTC steroid nasal spray, add  OTC antihistamines and see how they do. If they have continued problems time for a visit to your pediatrician to look at other options.

Daily Dose

Allergy Nasal Sprays

1:30 to read

Since we are in the throes of allergy season (even though there was a recent late snow event in the midwest and northeast) I thought I would provide some additional information on steroid nasal sprays.  In fact, the climate changes that we are seeing are predicted to increase the length of pollinating seasons and therefore increase the amount of pollen produced, which will only make those with allergies (and children with developing allergies) even more miserable with symptoms of runny nose, sneezing, throat clearing and itchy eyes.  

Although I recently discussed the use of non sedating and sedating anti-histamines for intermittent allergy symptoms, the use of intranasal steroids have been found to be far more effective in controlling allergy symptoms.  The first thing to remember is that unlike an antihistamine, intranasal steroids require several days of consistent use before you will see any real change in allergy symptoms (I must repeat that line 10 times a day, especially to my teenage patients who want instant gratification!).  For anyone who knows the season for their allergies (depending on the pollen one is sensitive to), I recommend starting the intranasal steroid spray 1-2 weeks before their symptoms typically begin. (Which means if you are allergic to tree pollens - you should have already started by now). Using the nasal spray daily and continuing throughout the allergy season will provide the best results.  Watching the pollen counts in your area will be important to time the use of intranasal steroids.

Although some children seem to be more sensitive about using a intranasal steroid spray, it is well tolerated by most with few side effects.  Prescription intranasal steroid sprays have been approved for use in children as young as 2 years and the over the counter sprays for children 4 years and older.  The most commonly reported side effects are nasal irritation, burning and bloody noses.  I always try to show my patients how to use the spray properly and to “aim” the spray towards the outer aspect of the inside of the nostril rather than towards the septum (middle) which may help reduce irritation and bloody noses. By spraying towards the outer aspect you also maximize the amount of area that is covered by the spray.  Everyone seems to have their “favorite” intranasal steroid as some are an aqueous spray and others are an aerosolized puff….but in many cases the product choice may be based on the age of the patient, prescription vs OTC, insurance coverage and cost.  Although there are many to choose from there have been no head to head studies with these medications and their efficacy is generally thought to be comparable….but discuss your choices with your own pediatrician.

Lastly, there was a study done in 2014 published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, which measured growth rates in children between 5 and 8 years of age who were treated with an intranasal steroid (specifically fluticasone furcate - Veramyst ) as compared to a placebo. The study did show a significant improvement in nasal allergy symptom scores, but there was a 0.27 cm (0.65 inch ) reduction in growth rate over the course of the year as compared to placebo.  Due to this study, I use the lowest effective dose for the shortest amount of time in younger patients, and explain the reasoning to their parents.  Again, you can read the study and discuss this with your pediatrician before beginning intranasal steroids.   

Just make sure you use the intranasal spray consistently during the height of allergy season…I tell my own family, it doesn’t work as well if it sits on the counter for a few days between use!


Daily Dose

Special Series: Food Allergies

We continue our special series on allergies. This time we look at food allergies and how they are diagnosed.We continue our series on allergies and this time we shift the focus on food allergies. This topic was top of mind for a mom who sent us an email question via our free iPhone app. She wrote “could my 9 year old daughter be allergic to strawberries as she gets a stomach ache and sometimes vomits after she eats them?  She has not had problems eating strawberries before." This is very interesting because I have been reading & reviewing several articles on food allergies and their diagnosis.

One was in JAMA (May  2010 issue) and another was in the March issue of Consultant for Pediatricians. Both of these articles emphasized that there continues to be a great deal of confusion and lack of uniformity for diagnosing food allergies. Food allergy is also not uniformly defined, but according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), it is an “adverse immune response that occurs on exposure to a given food and is distinct from other adverse responses to food such as food intolerance.”  Statistics show that somewhere between 1%-2% of the population may have food allergies.  It is also unclear if food allergies are on the rise, as data on this is conflicting. With all of that being said, it sounds more like this child has developed an intolerance to strawberries rather than an allergic response.  It would be important to get more history such as what else she has eaten with the strawberries when this occurs, if the symptoms are always the same and are there any other problems associated with the ingestion. Specifically, does she complain of hives, itching, swelling of her tongue, lips or difficulty breathing? Does she have problems with any other foods? I also wonder if she has the same symptoms if she picks fresh strawberries or if they are from the store or if they are frozen. In other words, like so many things in medicine a good history is probably the most important part of this “strawberry story”. If she continues to have problems and her symptoms, this sounds more like intolerance than a true allergic reaction she can just avoid the strawberries (not much fun, especially in the summer). She might also check with her pediatrician about doing a blood test for IgE antibodies to strawberries.  A food intolerance would not have an increase in IgE antibodies as it is not an allergic reaction.  If confusion persists she could be referred to a pediatric allergist for further evaluation and even an oral food challenge. There continues to be a great many studies surrounding the etiology of food allergies, and I will keep you posted as new information is presented. That's your daily dose for today.  We'll chat again tomorrow. What do you think?  Send your question or comment to me!

Daily Dose

Allergy Suffering Continues

Allergy suffering continues with itchy eyes, nasal congestion and sneezing. Dr. Sue explains how to treat season allergies.With pollen blowing across the country and “the worst spring allergy season in 10 years” in the headlines I thought I would follow up with a second blog on treating seasonal allergic rhinitis (SAR).

As discussed previously I typically begin seeing seasonal allergic symptoms of runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes and cough in children after the age of 2, and more typically around 4 years of age.  Prior to that most physicians think that recurrent viral respiratory infections account for many similar symptoms in the toddler age group. Parents who are convinced that their 8 month old baby has allergies this spring are most likely facing their child’s first “cold” as allergic symptoms to pollens are brought on after repeated exposure, so we therefore see the symptoms later on.  Allergies do seem to be hereditary so a child who has two allergic parents has between a 50-80 % chance of developing those seasonal allergies. Seasonal allergies at this time of year are typically due to pollen from trees, and will then be followed by grass and weed allergies. By far the best way to prevent the misery associated with SAR is to begin a nasal steroid spray early in the spring in order to help prevent the histamine release that occurs when  microscopic pollen particles enter the nasal passages.  For children with known allergies I typically begin nasal steroids in mid March. The histamine release in the body following exposure to the offending pollens will cause all of the seasonal allergic rhinitis (SAR) symptoms.  On top of using a nasal steroid children who have classic allergic shiners (darkened areas beneath their lower eyelid), clear watery nasal discharge with frequent sniffing and/or blowing or throat clearing, cough and sneezing may benefit from taking a daily anti-histamine. (in other words to fight the histamine release that has already occurred).  There are both 1st and 2nd generation anti-histamines. The 1st generation antihistamines are the older drugs that often cause sedation or drowsiness but are still excellent antihistamines.  Examples of these are Benadryl (see recall info for this product), Tavist, Dimetapp, and Triaminic products that are all available over the counter.  I use Benadryl (see recall info for this product) most frequently as there are so many different choices as to dosing methods. Many allergists also feel that if one class of anti-histamine does not work to try another, so many people have their own favorite medication. The newer 2nd generation antihistamines such as Claritin, and Zyrtec (se recall info for this product) are now available OTC also and come in both liquid and chewable preparations.  There are also prescription products in this group such as Allegra, and Clarinex and Xyzal.  These antihistamines are labeled non-sedating and are usually given once a day.  Again, one child may prefer one brand over another and some do not have a chewable or liquid option so are used in older children and adolescents. There are also other drugs that are used to combat allergy symptoms and these drugs may be used in combination with antihistamines and nasal steroid sprays.  Decongestants help constrict blood vessels and shrink the nasal mucous membranes and may improve nasal congestion.  The most common medications are Sudafed which is pseudoephedrine (now found behind the medicine counter) and Sudafed-PE which contains the decongestant phenylephrine.  These decongestants may also be found in nasal sprays to use topically, but if used locally within the nose may cause actual rebound symptoms of more congestion so are not recommended for use as a nasal spray for more than 3-7 days. Therefore it is preferred to use systemically to avoid that problem.  Decongestants may also cause hyperactivity and insomnia so I rarely recommend them for use in the evening in children. Singulair which is a leukotriene inhibitor (anti –inflammatory) may help relieve nasal allergic symptoms as well as the allergic cough, especially in children who have frequent night time coughs during allergy season. It comes as both granules, chewables and pills and may be given to children down to 2 years of age, especially those that have asthma as well as nasal allergies. Lastly, there are antihistamine nasal sprays now available but they have the problem of “really tasting badly” and I find most children will not use them. There are also several good eye drops for those that get seasonal allergic conjunctivitis (SAC) several of which, Zaditor and Patanol are now available OTC and older children find them quite helpful. Despite this huge armamentarium of products, no one (or two or three) will totally prevent symptoms. So make sure that your child bathes or showers after playing outside, including washing their hair, to get the pollen off of their skin and hair.  It is also helpful to wipe off the dog or outside cat with a dryer sheet to get some of the pollen off of the pets. While I love to sleep with the windows open and ceiling fans going, if your children suffer from SAR you are better off keeping windows closed and the AC on. That's your daily dose for today.  We'll chat again tomorrow. Send your question to Dr. Sue!

Daily Dose

Special Series: Allergies

1.30 to read

We've had plenty of questions about allergies this time of year, and with so many already suffering, we decide to put together a series on what you need to know to help your family survive allergy season. 

It is the season for allergic rhinitis (inflammation of the nasal passages) which are triggered by tree pollens and grasses as spring blows in.  Allergy symptoms affect about 1:5 people and the first symptoms often begin in childhood. Children typically develop symptoms of allergic rhinitis between the ages of 3–4 years. Many of these children might have shown symptoms of eczema (atopic dermatitis) and asthma at even younger ages. If one parent has allergies, there is about a 40-50% chance that their child may also be allergic and if two allergic persons marry (guess you should ask about that while dating), then there is a 70-80% chance that their children will also be allergic. 

It also seems that early exposure to cigarette smoke, cat dander and house dust mites may promote other allergic symptoms later in life. (Another great reason not to smoke if you have children) The most common symptoms of an allergy are complaints of an itchy nose, watery and red eyes, sneezing, runny nose (typically clear), post nasal drip and cough.  These allergic symptoms are brought on by the release of histamines in the body after exposure to the allergen, such as inhaled pollens.  

While allergic symptoms have been labeled, “hay fever” this is an inappropriate term as allergies do not cause a fever and the child is not necessarily allergic to hay. There are also different pollens responsible for allergic symptoms at different times of the year. Children that develop seasonal allergies have several characteristic physical findings. They may have allergic “shiners” which are darkened areas beneath the lower eyelid from swelling, they also often have a crease across their nasal bridge (termed the allergic salute) which occurs due to constant rubbing of the nose. You can often see the child rub their little watery eyes while you are examining them and they often have a clear, watery nasal discharge.  Some of these allergic children will also have a cough and may even be wheezing.  They often look rather uncomfortable rather than sick as with a cold. 

There are many different treatment options for controlling allergic rhinitis.  The first is to control the environment as much as possible by closing windows and turning on the AC in order that the airborne allergens do not blow into the house. After your child has been playing outdoors have them come in and shower to remove the pollens from their hair and body (not a favorite pastime for little boys). You can also watch the pollen count for your area and limit a child’s time outdoors on especially high pollen count days. Medical treatment of allergic rhinitis coming up in part 2 of our special series. Send your question to Dr. Sue!

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Spring Allergies

Control Spring Allergies

Daily Dose

Control Indoor Allergens

2.00 to read

Fall is the perfect time of year to open the windows and air out the house! Sounds like a great idea, however, this can cause some problems for fall allergy sufferers in your home. It can start stir up some pesky allergens that may bother your kids. So, how about a few tips to keep these allergens at bay.

There are an array of things that can trigger an allergy attack in your home including dust mites and mold.

Working fulltime and raising three boys, I know how hard it is for busy families to find time to clean (my least favorite thing to do). But spring is the best time to get a jump on controlling indoor allergies.

Start with washing all bedding at least once a week.  Throw your linens in water at least 130 degrees.  Place dust mite covers on mattresses and pillows.  While changing sheets, vacuum the mattress as well.

Carpeting harbors plenty of items, so if there is someone very allergic, consider replacing carpets with hard surfaces such as hardwood or tile. By doing so, this can eliminate as much as 90% of dust mites.  If you can’t live without carpet, think about buying low pile not shag.

Get rid of any mold!  Mold is caused by moisture and can hide in your kitchen, bathroom and basement.  Keep things as dry as possible to avoid any mold build up.

One thing many people miss? Turn on the ventilating fan or open a window in the bathroom.  Try to keep humidity below 50%.  Too much moisture is a breeding ground for mold and mildew.

I know how much families love their pets (we love our yellow lab Maggie and treat her like a member of the family).  But Maggie and your pet can track pollen into your home from the outside.  Also, many children can be allergic to pet dander.  Here’s a trick: wipe your pet down with a dryer sheet! It will pull the dander and any loose pollen off your pet.

Spring and fall cleaning means de-cluttering, so go ahead and box up those knickknacks.  They are very decorative but are a magnet for dust.

And, check your air filters.  Every 1st of the month, clean or replace your air conditioner, furnace or dehumidifier filter.  It will inhibit dusty air from circulating throughout your home.

Try these tips and let me know how it works out for your family.  I’d love to hear from you.



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