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Daily Dose

Penicillin Allergy

1:30 to read

Has your child ever been labelled “penicillin allergic”?  Interestingly, up to 10% of people (of all ages) report having a penicillin allergy, but only about 1% are truly allergic. I see this often in my own practice, especially when seeing a new patient and inquiring about drug allergies, and the parent replies, “ she is penicillin allergic, and developed a rash when she was younger”.  In many if not most of those cases the child is not allergic to penicillin.

 

Penicillins are a class of antibiotics known as beta-lactams and include not only penicillin but  amoxicillin, augmentin, oxacillin and nafcillin, just to name a few.  If you are incorrectly identified as penicillin allergic, when your doctor needs to prescribe an antibiotic they may resort to another class of antibiotic, which are not only more expensive but often may cause more side effects.  

 

Penicillins are the antibiotic of choice and the first line treatment for many pediatric bacterial illnesses including otitis ( ear infections ), strep throat, and sinus infections. They are not only effective, but they are typically inexpensive and have few side effects….which includes allergic reactions.

 

Penicillin allergy is an immune - mediated reaction which usually causes hives ( raised rash ), face or throat swelling, difficulty breathing and in some cases life threatening anaphylaxis.  Intolerance to penicillin is different than being allergic, and in this case symptoms are more likely nausea, diarrhea, headache or dizziness, which may make you uncomfortable but are not immune mediated. 

 

In pediatrics, many children present with a viral illness that includes several days of fever and upper respiratory symptoms, and are then also found to have an ear infection. They are given a prescription for amoxicillin and several days later develop a rash. Many viral infections in children also cause a rash, which is typically red, flat and covers the trunk, face and extremities and does not cause any other symptoms which are seen with a true penicillin allergy.  This rash is benign, but unfortunately many young children will be seen at an urgent care or even an ER due to the rash. The parents are told that their child is penicillin allergic and the antibiotic is changed…and the label “pen allergic” sticks….for many years or even life.  I even saw this rash occur in one of my own sons while on an antibiotic. He is NOT allergic!

 

The good news is that most children are truly not penicillin allergic, and if possible I try to see all of my patients who report a rash while they are on an antibiotic. At times this is not possible, and now with the advent of “smart phones” I have parents send me a picture of the child and the rash. This often helps in determining if the rash truly appears allergic and to identify if there are other symptoms.  Back to the “get a good history”. 

 

If I see an older patient who has had a rash on amoxil when they were little and had no other adverse effects (get a good history), I will sometimes try using a penicillin again, as most people also “outrgrow” their sensitivity after about 10 years. If it is my patient and I have seen the rash I tell the parents that this is not a “pen allergy” and I will use penicillins again.  Some  patients will report a “pen-allergy” but say I can take “augmentin” which is penicillin derivative, so that makes it easy to know they are not allergic.  If I am unsure if a child has had a true penicillin allergy I will refer them to a pediatric allergist for skin testing.  Skin testing is not painful and is an important method for documenting a true allergy. 

 

 

   

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

Epi Pen Controversy

1;30 to read

I have more than several patients who have had serious allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) to a variety of things…including insects (fire ants, bees) as well as foods (peanuts, tree nuts, fruits, shellfish). All of these children need to have epinephrine auto injectable pens (EpiPen) on hand in case of “accidental” exposure to the allergen and a subsequent life threatening allergic reaction.  These medical devices are seldom used ( thank goodness), but need to be replaced every 12-24 months and should always be readily available in case of an emergency.

For the longest time it was not a “big” issue (cost wise) to write prescriptions for these allergic children and to make sure that they had several EpiPens on hand. This included having them available at home, school, in the mothers purse or in the car or in the gym bag…many people also wanted “extras” to have at the grand- parents house or at the lake house…etc.  So….I would write a script for the EpiPen 2 pack and the family might get 4-5 sets to disperse to the appropriate people. Prior to 2009 the cost was less than $100/two pack. 

It was several years ago that a few families started talking to me about the expense of these devices and also how quickly they seemed to expire…in fact we started asking the pharmacist to look at the expiration dates and to try and dispense the ones that had the longest expiration, in hopes of saving some expense.  At that time there were also two companies that were making the epinephrine devices.  

Then in the last year parents started calling me complaining that the EpiPens were becoming cost prohibitive and “did they really need to keep filling them?”….especially seeing that they had never needed to use one?  Of course I replied that “by the grace of God” and their vigilance they had not needed one, but YES, they indeed needed to continue to have them on hand.  In many cases families reduced the number that they bought and tried to make sure that they handed them off if their child left home….terribly hard I would think to keep up with.

This issue came into view most recently as parents across the country started complaining to not only their physicians, but to the pharmacy, their insurers and the drug maker Mylan Pharmaceuticals….why in the world had the price jumped to over $600? In retrospect, the price had been raised 15% twice a year over the past 2 years!  ( It was also pointed out that this was a 6 fold price increase in the past decade).

I do know that epinephrine has been around for a long time and the drug itself is not that expensive, and is used everyday in hospitals around the country….but the EpiPen auto injector which allows “anyone” to inject the medicine into a muscle without any measuring etc. has become cost prohibitive for many families, even some of those with insurance. It seems that Mylan Pharma  is setting prices “based on whatever the market may bear” and not on the fact that the drug is new or expensive to produce…

This is one of the times that all parents with children who need to carry an EpiPen need to contact their representatives in Congress, as well as their insurers to see if the public can be influential in trying to remedy this situation.  The public will have to let their concerns and voices be heard…

Just as I am writing this, Mylan has announced an “instant savings card” for those people who are paying out of pocket and help for those who do not have the means to buy the EpiPen….but this does not correct the problem as a whole. While the discount may be helpful for some, but not all, it is not the answer to the ever growing problem of exorbitant drug costs in this country. I have several families who are going to try and buy the EpiPen while on trips to Mexico and Canada. I have no idea of the costs there…but worth a try.  

Your Child

New Studies Look At Childhood Asthma

1.45 to read

2 new studies take a look at childhood asthma. One suggests that antibiotics given to babies in the first year of life may increase a child’s chances of getting asthma by age 18, while the other study cautions that childhood food allergies may be a predictor of asthma later in life.2 new studies take a look at childhood asthma. One suggests that antibiotics given to babies in the first year of life may increase a child’s chances of getting asthma by age 18, while the other study cautions that childhood food allergies may be a predictor of asthma later in life

Antibiotic Use and Childhood Asthma Pediatricians have cautioned parents about taking antibiotics, and giving their children antibiotics, without a true medical need. Now a study appearing online in the journal Pediatrics, suggests that infants who take antibiotics during the first year of life may be at a slightly increased risk of developing asthma by age 18. In a separate analysis, the children of women who took antibiotics during pregnancy were nearly 25% more likely to have asthma compared to mothers who did not take the drug. Asthma can be a life threatening condition. Nine million children under age 18 in the U.S. have asthma, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Here’s how the study was conducted. Researchers gathered data from 22 previous studies between 1950 and 2010. Two of the 22 studies looked at antibiotic exposure during pregnancy while 19 studies evaluated antibiotic exposure during the first year of life. One study assessed antibiotic exposure during both time periods. Other studies have shown that infants who receive antibiotics are at an increased risk for developing asthma by age 7, and the more courses of the drug given that first year, the greater the risk. This review analyzed the results of studies using over 600,000 participants. It also grouped studies according to design type to see how the results were affected. When all 20 studies were grouped together, researchers found that infants who took antibiotics during their first year of life were about 50% more likely than babies who never received the drugs to be diagnosed with asthma. Researchers also analyzed studies where children who were treated with antibiotics for respiratory infections, were removed.  The respiratory infections skewed the overall results because of the possibility that the infections themselves might be a precursor to asthma. In studies that adjusted for these respiratory infections, a child who took antibiotics was 13% more likely to be diagnosed with asthma than a child who never took the medication. The researchers say they are not suggesting that early antibiotic exposure causes childhood asthma, but that even a slight increase in risk may be a good enough reason to avoid the unnecessary use of antibiotics during pregnancy and the first year of life. Food Allergies and Childhood Asthma Infants and toddlers often have some type of food allergy, while teens and adults are more prone to dust, ragweed and mold allergies according to U.S. researchers. A preliminary release of the Quest Diagnostics Health Trends Report, Allergies Across America, is based on laboratory testing from more than 2 million U.S. patient visits. In this report the findings reveal a pattern of allergen sensitivity consistent with the "allergy march," a medical condition by which allergies to foods in early childhood heighten the risk for the development of additional and more severe allergy-related conditions - including asthma- later in life. "Allergy and asthma often go hand in hand, and the development of asthma is often linked to allergies in childhood via the allergy march," Study investigator Dr. Harvey W. Kaufman says in a statement. "Given the growing incidence of asthma in the United States, our study underscores the need for clinicians to evaluate and treat patients, particularly young children, suspected of having food allergies in order to minimize the prospect that more severe allergic conditions and asthma will develop with age." The most common foods responsible for allergic reactions are eggs, cow's milk, peanuts, soya, fish and shellfish in children and peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish and fish in adults. Substances that are used as food additives and preservatives can also affect individuals. Although a causal link has not been determined, increased awareness of the heightened risks of having both childhood asthma and allergen sensitivity plus good patient-parent education and management of both conditions, can lead to improved health and medical outcomes.

Your Baby

Starting Baby on Solid Foods

Your goal over the next few months is to introduce a wide variety of foods. If your baby doesn't seem to like a particular food, reintroduce it at later meals. It can take quite a few tries before kids warm up to certain foods.Starting baby on solid foods can be an exciting and perplexing time for parents. What foods should I start with? How much? How often?

The American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends gradually introducing solid foods when a baby is about 6 months old. Your pediatrician, however, may recommend starting as early as 4 months depending on your baby's readiness and nutritional needs. Be sure to check with your pediatrician before starting any solid foods. Is your baby ready? Breast milk or formula is the only food your newborn needs. Within four to six months, however, your baby will begin to develop the coordination to move solid food from the front of the mouth to the back for swallowing. At the same time, your baby's head control will improve and he or she will learn to sit with support — essential skills for eating solid foods. If you're not sure whether your baby is ready, ask yourself these questions: •       Can your baby hold his or her head in a steady, upright position? •       Can your baby sit with support? •       Is your baby interested in what you're eating? If you answer yes to these questions and you have the OK from your baby's doctor or dietitian, you can begin supplementing your baby's liquid diet. What Foods to Start With. Continue feeding your baby breast milk or formula as usual. Then: •       Start with baby cereal. Mix 1 tablespoon (15 milliliters) of a single-grain, iron-fortified baby cereal with 4 to 5 tablespoons (60 to 75 milliliters) of breast milk or formula. Many parents start with rice cereal. Even if the cereal barely thickens the liquid, resist the temptation to serve it from a bottle. Instead, help your baby sit upright and offer the cereal with a small spoon once or twice a day. Once your baby gets the hang of swallowing runny cereal, mix it with less liquid. For variety, you might offer single-grain oatmeal or barley cereals. Your baby may take a little while to "learn" how to eat solids. During these months you'll still be providing the usual feedings of breast milk or formula, so don't be concerned if your baby refuses certain foods at first or doesn't seem interested. It may just take some time. Do not add cereal to your baby's bottle unless your doctor instructs you to do so, as this can cause babies to become overweight and doesn't help the baby learn how to eat solid foods •       Add pureed meat, vegetables and fruits. Once your baby masters cereal, gradually introduce pureed meat, vegetables and fruits. Offer single-ingredient foods at first, and wait three to five days between each new food. If your baby has a reaction to a particular food — such as diarrhea, a rash or vomiting — you'll know the culprit. •       Offer finely chopped finger foods. By ages 8 months to 10 months, most babies can handle small portions of finely chopped finger foods, such as soft fruits, well-cooked pasta, cheese, graham crackers and ground meat. As your baby approaches his or her first birthday, mashed or chopped versions of whatever the rest of the family is eating will become your baby's main fare. Continue to offer breast milk or formula with and between meals. Foods to Avoid for Now. Some foods are generally withheld until later. Do not give eggs, cow's milk, citrus fruits and juices, and honey until after a baby's first birthday. Eggs (especially the whites) may cause an allergic reaction, especially if given too early. Citrus is highly acidic and can cause painful diaper rashes for a baby. Honey may contain certain spores that, while harmless to adults, can cause botulism in babies. Regular cow's milk does not have the nutrition that infants need. Fish and seafood, peanuts and peanut butter, and tree nuts are also considered allergenic for infants, and shouldn't be given until after the child is 2 or 3 years old, depending on whether the child is at higher risk for developing food allergies. A child is at higher risk for food allergies if one or more close family members have allergies or allergy-related conditions, like food allergies, eczema, or asthma. Introducing Juice. Juice can be given after 6 months of age, which is also a good age to introduce your baby to a cup. Buy one with large handles and a lid (a "sippy cup"), and teach your baby how to maneuver and drink from it. You might need to try a few different cups to find one that works for your child. Use water at first to avoid messy clean-ups. Serve only 100% fruit juice, not juice drinks or powdered drink mixes. Do not give juice in a bottle and remember to limit the amount of juice your baby drinks to less than 4 total ounces (120 ml) a day. Too much juice adds extra calories without the nutrition of breast milk or formula. Drinking too much juice can contribute to obesity can cause diarrhea. Infants usually like fruits and sweeter vegetables, such as carrots and sweet potatoes, but don't neglect other vegetables. Your goal over the next few months is to introduce a wide variety of foods. If your baby doesn't seem to like a particular food, reintroduce it at later meals. It can take quite a few tries before kids warm up to certain foods.

Daily Dose

Follow Up on Food Allergies

A food intolerance is not an allergic event, in other words, it is not immune mediated.We had a lively and informative discussion on food allergies on the show yesterday. We were fortunate to have a pediatric allergist as a guest along with an ER doctor whose son was diagnosed with numerous food allergies when he was an infant. Between the two of them, they were a wealth of information for anyone who is concerned about the possibility of food allergies in their children. We had a lot of good phone calls, but unfortunately did not have the opportunity to answer all of the questions as we ran out of time, so will hit a few of the high points here.

One of the take home messages was to identify the difference between a true food allergy and food intolerance. A food intolerance is not an allergic event, in other words, it is not immune mediated. People who have a food intolerance may complain of nausea with a certain food, or abdominal cramps. They do not demonstrate allergic symptoms such as hives, swelling of the lips or tongue or breathing or wheezing problems seen with a food allergy. With anaphylaxis you also have a drop in blood pressure and it is a life-threatening emergency. Food allergies usually present early in life, often when the child has their first known exposure to the offending food, and they usually have symptoms within minutes to an hour after ingestion. Several callers today wanted to know what to do if they think that their child had had "a" reaction to a food. If the allergic reaction was significant, you have probably already been through an emergency room and have been referred to a pediatric allergist. If you are unsure if they have had an allergic reaction, make an appointment with your pediatrician to discuss the history. History is the most important part of the puzzle, but there are screening blood tests that may be done to look at allergic antibodies to foods (most commonly nuts, milk, eggs, fish). The gold standard for diagnosis is an evaluation and skin testing with a pediatric allergist and then most importantly education about food allergies. That's your daily dose, we'll chat again tomorrow.

Daily Dose

What Causes Circles Under a Baby's Eyes?

I received an email from a patient who had just weaned her your-baby from breast milk to formula. She was concerned because the your-baby sometimes looked as if she had circles under her eyes.I recently received an email from a patient who had just weaned her your-baby from breast milk to formula. She has a beautiful eight-month-old daughter and she was concerned because she thought the your-baby sometimes looked as if she had circles under her eyes. She felt like the your-baby was getting plenty of sleep, did not seem sick or tired but was concerned about the circles. She thought it might be allergies from changing from breast milk to formula. She was also concerned that she might have seasonal allergies.

In looking at her your-baby I really did not notice the circles, as you know mothers are the most critical about their own children. (Sorry Mom, I think my own Mother talks about my circles too!) At any rate, infants do not manifest symptoms of milk allergy with circles beneath their eyes. They have diarrhea, or vomiting or blood in their stools or failure to thrive. I do not think that the change in milk was the cause of the discoloration she described. Infants also do not develop seasonal airborne allergies until they are over the age of two or three and then they may present with the classic "allergic shiners" beneath their eyes, and the crease of the allergic salute across their nose, clear runny nose and often itchy eyes. I think this precious your-baby just had familial thin skin beneath her eyes with superficial veins that led to the appearance of circles. They were not always visible, and it would also depend on the position the your-baby slept in etc ...as to how much you might notice them. Will have to see if they bother her as she gets older, as there is always concealer and I use a lot of it when around my own Mom. That's your daily dose, we'll chat again tomorrow.

Daily Dose

Good News About Peanut Allergies

1:15 to read

There has been a lot of news recently about peanut allergies and good news on all fronts. For several years there had been recommendations that children should not be given any peanut products until at least two years of age due to concerns about children and peanut allergies. At the same time, some physicians even recommended that breastfeeding mothers not consume peanut products. This was a difficult scenario for both parents and children as what young child did not eat peanut butter?

Many children's parents would not even let peanut butter in the house and were consumed with reading labels looking for peanut products. Remember, this was not in a peanut allergic child, or even in a family with a history of peanut allergies. I would have failed as a mother during this time as my kids ate peanut butter sandwiches almost daily.

I can remember a patient coming over to my house for one of those "house calls" I frequently do and at the end of the visit I offered her child (about 22 months) a peanut butter cookie that I had just baked. As she took the cookie from me, ready to take a big bite, the mother screamed, "She has never had peanut butter, don't let her have that!" Before you could even grab the cookie she took a big bite, a grin spread over her face and lo and behold, she ate the rest. (I am a good cookie baker, if I do say so myself.) No reaction, happy child and now the mother was convinced her child would not die if she ate peanut butter before two. Well, the recommendations have changed and children may have peanut butter, or peanut products before they are even one and seem to actually have a lower chance of developing peanut allergies. They should not eat a whole peanut, for risk of choking, but other products are fine.

I had never been convinced that withholding peanuts seemed to make a difference, and peanut butter is a childhood staple, full of good protein. Now, news from Duke University is also showing that very peanut allergic children may be de-sensitized to peanuts by giving them miniscule amounts of peanut protein on a daily basis. After 8 to 10 months of gradually increasing doses of peanut powder several of the children were able to tolerate peanuts in their regular diet and several more were able to tolerate up to 15 peanuts at a time without serious reactions. This is significant data for those children suffering from peanut allergies, and who have the risk of developing anaphylaxis and even death if exposed to peanuts. It seems that scientists are making inroads into developing oral immunotherapy to de-sensitize children with food allergies, and further studies are underway.

That's your daily dose, we'll chat again tomorrow. More Information: Experimental Treatment Gives Hope to Children with Peanut Allergies

Daily Dose

Diagnosing Food Allergies

1.15 to read

Food allergies continue to be a problem in the pediatric population and I often get calls or see a patient for an office visit with a parent who has a concern that their child “may have” reacted to something they ate. Their question is, are they allergic?  

There is a great resource for physicians entitled “The Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Food Allergy in the United States”.  Not all adverse reactions to foods are allergic and it sometimes takes a bit of “detective work”, which is a good history and physical exam, to begin to determine if a child has a food allergy.   

So, when a parent tells me that their child gets a rash on their chin or cheek after eating “xyz” food the questions begin.  Was it the first time they had ever been exposed to that food? Describe the rash and how the child was acting?  Did they have other symptoms with the rash? Was the rash just on a cheek or was it all over? Was it hives? This list of questions go on and on.   

The most common food allergens are egg, milk, peanut, tree nuts, wheat, shellfish and soy. I also ask if this was a one time occurrence, and  If they have tried the food again did it happen every time? Many times hard to tease out what a child has had to eat when they have a mish-mash of food on their plate and nothing is new!  

Is there a family history of allergy or asthma?  Does your child have eczema as well?  If so there is a greater chance of developing a food allergy.  

After a detailed history, and if I do think that the child has a good history for a food allergy, there are tests (skin prick and blood) that may help determine if an allergy may exist.  BUT, with that being said, there are several caveats.  Number one, your doctor should not test for “every” food allergen, only for the suspected food or foods, as there are many false positive tests when you just check all of the boxes for testing IGE levels for an allergy.  For example, if your child eats eggs and has had no problem but the IGE level comes back a bit high for egg allergy, what does that really mean?  In other words, I just test for the suspected culprit. So, I do not test for tree nuts if the parents only had concerns with a peanut product.   More to come on this topic. 

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